Passionate gardener Simon Jones has made the creation of stunning gardens at St John’s Hospice his life’s work.
Simon, whose father was treated at St John’s Hospice for a short time, believes the garden is vitally important: “The garden reflects the ethos of the hospice,” he explains.
“It is loved and tended and no job is too small. It’s about life and living it to the full.
“We have a beautiful garden and it’s a living garden. It is not a memorial garden – it’s a celebration of life.
“My own father was cared for here and as a family we received great care. He wasn’t afraid to come here – he used to water my pots if I was away in the summer.”
Walking with Simon around the gardens, he jokingly refers to it as his “estate”.
And its easy to see why.
Over the last 17 years he has created something truly special here and he is always happy to share it with others.
Far from the usual drab, municipal beds often found at institutions and places of work, the hospice gardens are like a work of art.
There is zingy colour, texture, structure and creativity everywhere.
“We are very lucky to be in this semi-rural position,” he says. “We’re close to fields and the canal. We get a lot of wildlife coming in.”
Unlike a hospital, the hospice enables patients to be outside if they wish. Simon explains: “We have sockets outside so on a nice summer day or evening a bed can be moved out into the garden. I have seen people outside listening to the fountain and taking in the summer air.
“People who come here might only be here for a few days or weeks. They might just be here for respite care. I think it is important that every person has something beautiful to look at.”
Described by one of the hospice garden volunteers as “an artist with colour”, Simon has been inspired by many famous gardeners including Christopher Lloyd, Beth Chatto and Marjorie Fish.
He uses as wide a palette of colour as possible to ensure that the hospice garden is vibrant and full of interest throughout the year.
“In the summer we go for every colour under the rainbow. By having strong growing half hardy perennials we provide colour right into the autumn.”
Simon keeps the soil in superb condition by using compost and leaf mould.
I visited the hospice garden more then 10 years ago and it is amazing to see what Simon and the volunteers have achieved since then.
Simon is delighted to have the help of volunteers such as Caroline Jackson and Susie Roth.
“We work together with me supervising,” he explains. “It means I can show them the way I do things. It’s not a simple garden.”
He’s right about that. The garden has several different areas including a courtyard garden, woodland area, formal beds and there is a magnificent veg plot run by a different set of volunteers.
He is particularly delighted with the crab apple trees he planted 17 years ago which now look so beautiful in the grounds.
Most of the plants are raised from seed and from cuttings by Simon in the hospice’s large greenhouse. Many of the surplus plants are sold at plant sales throughout the year to raise funds for the hospice.
One of the most stunning areas is the courtyard with its mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, tender plants, annuals, grasses and much more. It is a popular place for patients and families.
Simon says patients love to hear the soothing trickle of water from the fountain. He always tries to make sure patients can see something exquisite. A dream is to create a path that would enable patients in wheelchairs to do a circular route around the hospice, taking in all of the gardens.
As money is not available for this, it would be greatly appreciated if a building or landscaping company could get involved and donate the path.
Simon feels he owes much to the hospice: “It has been the greatest privilege of my career to have worked for this organisation. You do become part of the family. One of the main things I take from it is hearing laughter. It’s a happy place and the work done by the staff is second to none.”
The work that Simon and the garden volunteers do is another reason to support the Save Our Hospice campaign.