Ninewells Community Garden’s popularity is rising but there are still many who don’t know about this urban oasis.
On the northern edge of the Ninewells Arboretum, just south of the hospital, lies a therapeutic garden containing around 2,000 square metres of the most productive land in Dundee.
Grown are a rich seam of fruit and vegetables including courgettes, onions, beans, pumpkins, cabbages, herbs, rocket, lettuce, blueberries, blackberries, redcurrants and elderberries.
A small polytunnel yields tomatoes, strawberries and other produce needing shelter from the elements.
This is also a hub for plants, with a small orchard as well as sensory and physic gardens. The latter contains eight beds planted according to the type of illnesses they are traditionally used to treat.
These are wellness, women’s health, immune support, musculoskeletal, gastroenterology, dermatology, respiratory and cardiology.
The land includes a picnic area, wildlife habitat, garden room and children’s play area with toy dinosaurs.
The community garden is run by 30 volunteers and three members of staff. It is always open to the public.
Since Covid rules began in March 2020, it has become more popular with local residents unable to enjoy indoor attractions and hospital guests restricted in the length of time they can see patients.
But those involved with the garden still want to spread the word.
“People in urban environments have generally lost a connection with nature and if we can help people get engaged there are more locally who can support us,” says Jim Doig, 66, a trustee on the community garden’s board.
“It’s nice to get so closely involved with nature – it’s important for your wellbeing.”
Free fruit and vegetables
Ninewells Community Garden’s key aim is to promote physical activity and good health as well as therapy and rehabilitation.
It was first developed in 2011 on just 200 square metres of land and has expanded 10-fold in the past decade.
Its human hub is the award-winning Leaf Room, which uses a green roof overhanging a rectangular-shaped timber box for a living room, garden retreat, community room and educational training facility.
Often outside here are fruit and vegetables that have been grown on the land. These are given to volunteers with any excess going to charity or the community fridge on Perth Road.
The two are also joining forces for health prescribers to offer nature-based interventions for people who may be isolated or unwell.
In May 2021 it was awarded £150,000 of lottery funding to continue for another three years.
‘Life outside Covid’
Lorraine Law has found solace at Ninewells Community Garden as she navigates the challenges of Covid restrictions.
The Hazel Avenue resident, 57, is an independent jeweller in Dundee and now opens her shop just three days a week – on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – as she responds to the drop in footfall in the city centre.
Amid the lockdowns and uncertainty of the past 19 months, the community garden has offered her a sense of normality.
“When you come here you forget what is going on in the world,” says Lorraine. “It helps take your mind off it.
“You stand here, there’s no noise and you see families; it reminds you that there’s life outside Covid.”
Lorraine often visits with her two grandchildren, aged nine and four.
“We are very very lucky to have this in the local area,” she adds.
“We live in a city but when I come here it feels as though I am in the middle of the countryside.
“It’s hard to believe that you are at the back of the hospital with everything going on in there.
“I have a little garden and I have learnt from the volunteers and looking at the plants what would work in the space.”
‘More people should be doing this’
Former Ninewells worker Brian Matthew has volunteered at the community garden since it began in 2011.
Logie man Brian, 68, retired from his role as a biomedical scientist the previous year and was “looking for something to do”. He now volunteers three times a week.
“I already had an allotment for nearly 30 years so was quite used to gardening outside,” he says.
“More people should be doing this and the hospital should be better at promoting here as somewhere for staff to go to.
“Some use it at lunchtimes but not enough are aware of it being here.
“People should come here, as there’s lots of colourful plants, vegetables and animal life.”
‘Folk were saying hello’
The first Covid lockdown helped draw more people’s attention to Ninewells Community Garden.
From April 2020 Brian regularly used pebbles to create designs, some involving words, that captured the attention of visitors.
“During lockdown, folk who normally would not speak were saying hello,” says volunteer Christina Howie.
West End resident Christina, 58, began helping after her retirement in 2018 from her job as a nurse at Royal Victoria Hospital.
“A lot more people are finding out about us but there are still a lot who say they do not know this exists,” she says.
“There are a lot of people unable to get into hospital for an appointment who have found us on a wander and are making a day of it.
“We are here for hospital staff, patients, visitors and anyone else who needs us.”
‘It has become a special place’
Long-term cancer patient Jim Smyth spends so much time in the community garden that he has become its unofficial photographer.
Jim, 71, has been living with the disease since 2004 and makes regular trips to Ninewells from his home in Hazel Drive.
He was introduced to the then-undeveloped arboretum when his daughter Lorri, now 34, was a teenager.
“Since then it has become a special place of healing for both of us,” says Jim.
“On a direct line from my home to the oncology ward at Ninewells Hospital, it both prepared me for my treatments and consoled me afterwards.
“I’m still a regular visitor and love to capture the changing of the seasons.
“This little corner of Dundee is very special and provides a sanctuary for all, wildlife and human, but in particular our amazing NHS staff who can avail themselves of its peace and tranquillity during these stressful times for them.”
‘We have given references’
Helena Simmons is one of three members of staff devoted to the community garden.
The Wormit resident, 48, is a co-facilitator alongside June Imrie. Recently joining the team is outreach facilitator Colleen Allwood.
She was also involved in a community garden in Newport.
“This is a community garden but also a therapeutic garden,” she says.
“You can come just to enjoy the garden or it can give you volunteer opportunities.
“We have given references to people who have volunteered while out of work, or to those who have just moved to the area.
“Gardening is really good for mental and physical health.”
‘It was very, very important for me to do this’
Volunteering at Ninewells Community Garden was a natural retirement hobby for Ronnie Ogg.
Ronnie, 73, was a gardener at The James Hutton Institute from 1969 until he was made redundant in 2020.
“I was happy to forego my salary at James Hutton Institute and volunteer there,” he says.
“I could have sprayed the weeds or gathered rubbish but they couldn’t let me do that because of the virus. So I came here to volunteer instead.”
Ronnie was lucky enough to have had a career that doubled as his favourite hobby.
Gardening was there for him when Kathleen, his wife of 40 years, passed away in 2007.
And being able to trim the trees and cut the grass at the community garden has helped him transition into retirement.
“At James Hutton Institute I mainly dealt with strawberries, potatoes and barley so I felt I was lacking in gardening knowledge when I started here,” says Ronnie, who lives on Perth Road.
“It was very, very important for me to do this after leaving my job.”
‘It’s lovely to be involved’
It wasn’t until her 70th birthday that Dundonian Liz Turner discovered Ninewells Community Garden.
Liz, who lives in Broughty Ferry, discovered the area in June 2021 while enjoying her gift of entrance to the gardens on the Dundee and Angus Garden Trail.
While there she spoke to co-facilitator Helena Simmons who said there were volunteering options. The rest is history.
“Where I live I only have a communal garden so when I saw this place it was a dream come true,” says Liz, who taught English to foreign students at Dundee College for 15 years before going freelance in 2008.
“Work was always indoors and involved a lot of travelling so I never did much gardening.
“So it’s lovely to be involved in growing things and meeting new people, especially after the past 18 months of not having that.”