Nature heals: Pioneering intensive care project opening at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital

  • Bespoke outdoor/indoor treatment area fitted with specialist equipment so critical care patients can spend time in the fresh air and sunshine whilst fully ventilated 
  • Outdoor garden space designed by award-winning BBC TV gardening expert, wheelchair user and former ICU patient Mark Lane
  • Embracing the benefits of nature aims to improve rehab experience and outcomes for seriously ill patients and families 

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) is to harness the positive healing power of nature by encouraging intensive care patients to spend time outdoors, even whilst fully ventilated, thanks to a new £625k treatment area opening in December 2022. 

Patients and staff will be able to feel the breeze and sun on their faces when the bespoke critical care rehabilitation garden room, called The Secret Garden, opens at Derriford Hospital, part of University Hospitals Plymouth (UHP) NHS Trust.

Innovatively, the unit’s life-saving ventilation equipment will be able to run outdoors in the courtyard garden, meaning patients can spend time outside, in a non-clinical environment – an important recovery steppingstone for many. Uniquely, it has been designed by Mark Lane, the UK’s first garden designer in a wheelchair, who himself spent months in a critical care unit after a serious car crash.

The project was inspired by a former patient, Andrew Heveran’s desire to get outside, to feel fresh air, after a life changing attack that left him paralysed. Andrew will be there to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.

Kate Tantam, Critical Care Specialist Rehabilitation Sister, who spearheaded the project, said: “Our patients and their loved ones tell us that being in critical care is like a bomb going off in your life, that everything is blown apart. Our job as a multi-professional team is to support them in rebuilding their lives.

“Part of supporting people with their recovery journey after critical care is getting to know them as individuals and exploring with them what they most want out of their future.  For many it is simply time with loved ones, time to restore relationships and play with children and grandchildren in non-clinical environments. It was the desire to support this that the idea for the secret garden at University Hospitals Plymouth was born.”

Getting patients who require ventilation to support their breathing outside in the fresh air takes a lot of work. “They need a team of people and it is not without risk. It is also very challenging in busy hospitals to find private spaces, where patients can relax without feeling overlooked,” said Dr Sam Waddy Critical Care Consultant at UHP.

The team decided in 2018 it needed to build a bespoke garden space where ventilated patients and the critically ill could be cared for in the fresh air with all the specialist equipment that requires. With no similar facilities in the Southwest like this at the time, the staff knew it was going to be a big challenge, made even more complex as COVID-19 hit a year into the project.

Despite this, the team raised the funds for the garden thanks to Plymouth Hospitals Charity, NHS Charities Together and the Trust’s budget.  The new-look secret garden is a bespoke critical care therapy space with floor to ceiling glass exposing a walled flower garden.  Full of nurturing botanicals it provides a space for patients, loved ones and staff to recover together.

Mark Lane has designed the garden to be fully inclusive and accessible, with space for beds and wheelchairs, walking frames and sticks, and with slip-resistant, anti-glare, self-binding gravel surfaces. There will be mixed height planting, some in-ground, others in raised beds so patients laying down or seated can see plants. He said: “Outdoor, green spaces are enjoyed by many, but when your life turns a different corner and you end up in ICU, like I did after my car accident, you become completely unaware of the changing seasons, whether it’s sunny or raining outside and, if like me, you’re fortunate to be able to go outside again the first thing that hits you is the sun on your face, the breeze and the colour green.

“So, when I was commissioned to design this garden for Derriford I felt truly honoured to be able to create a space for patients to enjoy, to improve their physical and mental wellbeing by introducing a Secret Garden. Yes, it’s an awkward space with high walls around all four sides, but this lent itself to a nurturing woodland-style of garden with pops of colour here and there. I wanted the patients to feel the plants and enjoy the textures, engage with the garden, whether that be passively or actively getting their hands dirty during rehabilitation and have a space to reflect. I know, because of the incredible staff, and their amazing fundraising activities, that this garden will flourish over the years and make a huge difference to people’s lives, patients, visitors and staff.”

The secret garden has gone from an abandoned courtyard, to a bespoke critical care garden room with specialist capacity to facilitate full care for ICU patients and their loved ones wherever they are in their recovery journey.  It also provides a welcome outside space for clinical staff to support them with the challenges of working in ICU.


Notes for editors:

Mark Lane – Mark Lane has gained recognition as a first-class landscape designer, being the UK’s first garden designer in a wheelchair, as well as the first BBC gardening presenter in a wheelchair. As a broadcaster, he’s the gardening expert on BBC One’s Morning Live. He has also been a presenter of the award-winning Gardeners’ World on BBC Two as well as for BBC Gardeners’ World Live and the BBC’s coverage of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Shows – Chelsea, Chatsworth, Hampton Court Palace and Tatton. In 2001 Mark was in a car accident and had to have operations on his spine, which were complicated by him being born with spina bifida. Following a long rehabilitation period Mark studied garden/landscape design through an Open Learning course at KLC, Hampton Court.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust – If you would like more information on the hospital itself or want to talk to staff please contact