with David Doherty & Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice

Text and watercolours by community gardener David Doherty

Gardener David Doherty gives his first impression of visiting Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice.

"My first visit to the hospice was near the end of July. It had been an unusually hot and dry summer and I was surprised by how calm the gardens felt and how much space there was. Backing on to Bostall Woods, it felt like a huge woodland or park in it’s own right — vast and wild. Secluded and spacious and spread over different levels. It felt like it could be anywhere and didn’t feel like we were just of the A2. As an environment it felt nowhere near as sanitised as I was expecting. There were many things that made the space feel personal and improvised, such as second-hand greenhouses and paths that had beenmade by hand from found materials.

On my first visit I met with Rahima and Irene from the Hospice, and Scott from Three Rivers. They told me about the project and the meetings they had had over the last year and where they were now and how they wanted to proceed and collaborate to make something from all of their ideas. They were full of enthusiasm and it was clear that they’d gotten to know each other really well through this project. And they really wanted to share their story.

Before this first meeting and visit, I had been thinking about creating a planting scheme. I hadn’t expected the site to be as big as it is with so much space to work with and so many options. The gardens were already divided into zones, a white garden runs along the ramp you walk through from the car park, which leads to a winding walk surrounded by wild flowers on your

left, and a small lawn with a standing stone sculpture surrounded by flower beds to the right. After this, there is an allotment where fruit and vegetables are grown and then a large flat lawn that sweeps around the building, like a sports green. There’s a sensory garden, and a patio area on the far side of the building where you could have a barbecue. The patio has a few raised beds on wheels that can be moved around to reconfigure the space in case you are hosting lots of people.

The gardens have so many facets already that I began to think that a new planting scheme could get lost among all of these elements or make the gardens feel too crowded.

It also started to become clear that the group wanted an object as a marker of the journey they had been on together. Something solid to mark that period of time, so I began to think about making a sculptural seat to tell the story of how the hospice was set up 28 years ago.

Currently the central idea is to make a bench based on a bus seat to tell the story of how the two founders of the hospice, Pat Jeavons and Don Sturrock, came up with the idea to build a hospice for people in Greenwich and Bexley when they were riding on the back of the bus together one day back in 1985. They found the current building for sale, which had previously belonged to the Co-op and and managed to raise the money and buy it. The seat is a visual and sculptural reference to that beginning and I’d like to find a way to weave the story into the experience of the site.

My hope is that the group who have worked together on this project will feel an ongoing connection to the stories they have told and carried and made together.