For Melbourne nurse and horticulturalist Steven Wells, receiving a Churchill Fellowship in 2015 was a turning point.
He used it to research the development, use and management of therapeutic gardens in healthcare settings in Singapore, the UK and the USA.
Three years later he’s now a guest presenter on ABC’s ‘Gardening Australia’, and has been instrumental in establishing a national body focused on therapeutic horticulture.
Churchill Fellowships enable Australians to travel the world to access knowledge not readily available locally.
In an exciting development for the nursery industry, a new partnership with Hort Innovation will see three Churchill Fellowships valued at $26,000 offered annually for the next four years, specifically for international research on horticulture.
The successful recipients will need to propose a study topic that is aimed at delivering real benefit to the Australian horticultural industry and show how their learnings can be shared at home.
Mr Wells applied for a Churchill Fellowship to investigate therapeutic gardens and how they could be sustained for the long term.
He designed and implemented the therapeutic gardens for patients with acquired brain injuries at Austin Health’s Rehabilitation Centre in Melbourne, which he still maintains. His passion is for using plants and landscaping to provide respite and recovery for patients, their families and staff.
Mr Wells is now encouraging those with a strong interest in Australia’s nursery and garden industry to apply.
“One of the aims of my Fellowship was to establish a national therapeutic landscapes network that represents professionals involved in this field,” Wells said. “Through the new national body, Therapeutic Horticulture Australia, we can share ideas, facilitate future projects and research, and advocate for the inclusion and value of therapeutic gardens and their benefits.”
Wells said therapeutic gardens introduce a different element to garden design that horticulturists should heed.
“Planting a garden is often about the aesthetic, but the designer should also ask how you want to feel when you’re in the garden,” Wells said. “Where gardens are planted at the entrance to a hospital, for example, people’s perceptions of the level of care they’ll receive inside are more positive.”
A visit to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore, was a highlight of his fellowship.
An award winning 550-bed public facility, it has been designed as a therapeutic healing environment around the idea that ‘nature will nurture’.
Its facilities include three towers that overlook a central courtyard, with rooftop gardens, the main entrance landscaped with gardens, and patient wards with planter boxes.
Balconies along the buildings incorporate climbing plants that fill the inner courtyard with a mass of greenery.
Rooftop farming spaces grow vegetables, herbs and fruits for the hospital’s kitchen.
Wells was the only person with a horticultural connection out of 103 Churchill Fellows in his intake. He is excited by the news of the new fellowships co-funded by Hort Innovation.
“More Churchill Fellows from horticulture will bring some momentum to our capacity to connect people with green spaces and nature,” he said.
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