New Vegetable Garden at Maggies Cancer Care Centre, Swansea by Alison Galbraith

A phone call from Kim Wilkie in May 2010 proved to be the start of a very special project for Terra Firma and for me in particular.  Kim’s practice had been working on the concept design for a new Maggies Centre at Singleton Hospital, Swansea for over a year when other workload demands meant that they could not take the scheme further. 

The concept building architect, Kisho Kurokawa, described the unique building ‘come(ing) out of the earth and swing(ing) around with two arms like a rotating galaxy. One side will welcome the visitor and lead to the other side, which embraces nature, the trees, rocks and water. ‘

The concept for the garden scheme responds positively to the energy of the architectural form, spinning off with geometric arcs that provide the framework for boundary, path and differing surface treatments while also ensuring linkages and interface with the surrounding landscape.   

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The garden falls broadly into two character areas contained within the wooded boundary.  The contemplative rear garden has a sweeping landform and hedge which form a strong sense of enclosure to the core of the site, with a bowled lawn of long meadow grass with serpentine mown paths, overlooked by the timber deck.   Once the meadow is established this will be a calming place to be and to view from the building and deck.   

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The second part of the garden is to the front of the building.  Here the decking overlooks a sweeping patchwork of vegetable and herb beds which are used by volunteers, staff, visitors and relatives alike.   A vital, creative interaction is encouraged between visitor and the landscape to embrace the culture of what the centre is all about. 

 The centre was opened in December 2011 and has since been establishing itself as a drop-in haven providing emotional, practical and social support to people with cancer and their families and friends.  The official opening of the gardens was delayed until July 2013 when Maggie’s President, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited and after enjoying morning coffee with centre visitors was proudly introduced to the gardens by Lionel and I.

 After explaining the therapeutic benefits of many of the vegetables and herbs in the garden, and the ways in which Maggies are going to make use of the vegetable garden as a healing resource, the Duchess  planted the final globe artichoke to complete the year’s planting.  The rather ‘tongue in cheek’ suggestion of an artichoke as opposed to a more common choice of a tree for a ceremonial planting originated from Kim and was accepted by the Duchess with great humour!

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 Rewind a month from the opening and an unusually hot and dry day in early June saw me hard at work getting blisters and sunburn planting the first vegetables and bringing the garden to life!  It was wonderful to see the faces of visitors as they arrived to see us planting runner beans, cabbage, rhubarb, hundreds of lettuce, marigold, chives, sweet peas, artichokes, peas and many more, with the bare soil turning green before their very eyes!  I joined Terry and Gav from Landcraft – the contractors who had been responsible for implementing the soft landscape.  Terry, a keen and prize-winning allotment gardener, had raised many of the vegetables on his own plot and I couldn’t have wished for healthier looking plants!  Growing  vegetables is a passion of mine and Terra Firma happily donated my time to be involved in what was for me the icing on the cake at Maggies, Swansea. 

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A month later Debbie, the centre manager, wrote and told us how successful the vegetable garden had become, with veg and herbs providing beautiful ingredients for fresh salads,  rhubarb crumbles, soups, pasta sauces, herb teas …. the list goes on and growing, cooking and eating vegetables will continue involving more and more of those who visit the centre. 

 Debbie, who had never had the slightest interest in gardening, had been inspired to start growing vegetables herself (and soon to retire, she has applied for an allotment).  Importantly she has been involved at the start of what we hope will be an integral part of the centre’s ethos in years to come.

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