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Hexham Hospital Garden Commission: Materials

As part of the Hexham Hospital Garden Commission, a booklet was produced containing examples of some of the work that was done by members of the team. The booklet offers us an insight into Dorothy's own thinking and the working process.

After the title page, the first page featured a quote from Steve Chalke and Anthony Watkis: "... a risky commitment to a glimpsed possibility, in the face of reasonable human hesitation about whether it is really possible”. In an article published in the Creative Drama Journal (2010), Dorothy states:


My stance as an individual would be: I believe in rigour, responsibility and realizations as my path to lifelong learning. I follow no religious creed but I believe that spirituality is a source of energy for people. My mantra would be: “Be a steward and leave all better than you found it.”… Finally, if I do have a faith it would be like that of the Bishop of Durham [sic] who spoke of it as being “a risky commitment to a glimpsed possibility in the face of reasonable human hesitation”...  (1)

Chalke quote.jpg

“the snowdrop is a flower to stir many a passion”

The booklet includes a sheet, evidently produced by Dorothy to circulate to members of the Commission team, with cuttings and a note “regarding the significance of the name of the old garden at Hexham Hospital which must be carried forward to our garden for the new hospital.” It seems it was previously called “Snowdrop Garden.”

The plant snowdrop - in the language of flowers it means HOPE, so I'm starting to realise why the original garden was given this name. It seems very appropriate for a garden in a hospital.

Its associations: it is feted as “The fair maid of February” and is celebrated in the Christian Calendar at Candlemas & Saint Valentine's Day. It's also called the Milk Flower and Snow Piercer and Candlemas Bells.

Symbol of purity. He was brought into Lady Chapels and churches on Feb 2nd, celebrate the Purification of the Virgin Mary. On February 3rd in Victoria in Canada, all school children go out and count how many snowdrops they can find in gardens and wild places around the school.


Our Commission garden design therefore follows in a long-cared-about tradition.

Dorothy also included a Native American story, recorded by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi, called “Peboan and Seegwun: An Allegory of the Seasons”, in which the Spirit of Winter meets the Spirit of Spring. The story ends: "As the young man turned to say good-bye he found nothing with the old man had stood put small white flowers.


“We will call them snowdrops,” said the young man, “and they shall always be the earliest flowers to herald the coming spring.” So Winter vanished, and Young Spring went forth to make the world glad."


Garden "genres"


Dorothy wrote: We considered many kinds of garden genres and created “voices” for them and then “listened” to them to get mind pictures to help us choose and consider atmosphere and forms. These are some of our “voices.”

Here are some examples.

The Remembrance Garden

I used to feel awkward, unworthy even, when people visited me. It’s awkward, you know when you don't know what people want from you. As time passed however, I began to get a feel for my role. The people who visit me are not unhappy. I am not a place to grieve. I provide support and encouragement; I help people to regain perspective, to regain control over their lives. People need my silence; they need my tranquillity.


I am a water garden

I am at peace.

I sense round stones and pebbles on my surface and cool, fresh, life giving water washes over them. The liquid, splashing over the pebbles, sounds like laughter. There are chuckles in the air.

They bring back memories of happy times I have spent in the sun, hearing friends at play.

There is something reassuring about my presence.

As though, whatever may happen, the cycle of water is constant and, come what may, will always be there.

The Bog Garden.

I am the voice of the bog garden. You reach me

By stepping through the gnarled wind-toned trees:

And there I am. ...

I represent the mysterious being of the garden world ...

It is said that gardens such as me

Have given rise to ancient tales:

Of princesses lying in the rich mosses

Hoping, near my dark and wetly-shaded world,

To find a prince long “magicked” into toad:

Waiting to be freed of magic’s evil spell by a kiss.


This is how Gibby Raine recalled the task:


During the Hexham project, the group was tasked with writing in the voice of specific gardens. Dorothy organised the presentation of the readings of the work like this -

Chairs were set out in one long line, and one chair faced the line. She established that each person would take their turn at going to the front and reading their work. Then she asked everyone in the long line to turn their chairs round, to close our eyes if we wanted. The focus was on deep listening. And speakers not being rushed. It was more than a performance, it was collaboration. It energised the group and it was a moving experience.

We have recreated the task with a group of drama students from Newman University - see the video.



At one point in the project, the  team undertook a survey of local people to find out their views on the hospital garden. To help them prepare for this task, they "interviewed" a number of teachers-in-role, representing (fictional) members of the community. Each "role" was prepared with their own fictional "biography."

You can find out more about this work, here. Below are some examples of the role "biographies."



"Then we began to make 'connections' to begin a process of collecting and selecting ideas"

The booklet features this diagram, which shows the way Dorothy categorised different strands of the commission:


Envisioning: taking ideas; assisting others to “see” choices in garden situation

What is feasible? in site

The final presentation requires creative forms of “picturing” 


Communicating: finding different “voices” to inform, share and find common ground amongst variety of ideas

Public voice: finding how to engage in discourse; how to make the garden owned and used by a variety of people

The final form of the garden requires information related to the service of people. The human garden [illegible] for need.


Plants: essential that wise informed choices are made; the site; the seasons; the symbolic; the development through time

Water: many forms; safety; durability; technicality; sources and power; plant growth; conservation, energy, light, colour

Engineering and art must find a working arrangement to fulfil nature and art in use for purposes.

The final garden form relies upon knowledge on these two fronts. “Fitness for purpose.”


Dreams and stories of the garden

"Then we wanted each of us to give you a gift - stories and 'dreams' of the garden."

Here are some examples.


It all started when my mum went into hospital to have a baby. I was told to go to the garden. They gave me directions and said “We will get you when your mom is ready.” I made my way towards the snowdrop garden. When I got there the only thing that was going through my head was “does my mum not love me?” I was now in the garden. It was so beautiful. I ran through an arch of pink roses, as I reached the corner, I saw a bubbling pond. It filled me with happiness. Then it was time to go. I knew my mum loved me.


I am the courtyard cat. I live in this hospital garden. Lots of people come and sit on the bench by the pond and watch the fish (the ones I haven't eaten yet, anyway). Some people cry and weep, others just sit and read. I wander around in and out of the pots and balls and then I go and greet them. I sit next to them and comfort them.




And then we thought you might be interested in our ideas for developments which may “spin off” around, in and for the garden.


We have considered how the garden may create opportunities for spin-off development.

Some have been suggested to us by our parents; some we have considered as the garden commission grew and plans developed.

We recognise such suggestions will require time and organisation but we believe these could help people realise the importance of the garden to the lives of all those who may use it.

We also believe that these ideas may help to sustain the garden in future time in financial ways.....

Here are some examples of the suggested "spin-offs."

Regular photographs of the garden, seasonal and on special days, such as:

a snowdrop week in February to celebrate the name;

any special occasion to mark an event;

a choir event, or a drama, or a chamber concert or Morris dancing.

The photographs will become part of the garden archive and could be printed as postcards or greeting cards.

A bookshop area might sell books and even leaflets about healing herbs, recipes, old remedies collected from elderly residents, poems and extracts from literature about gardens, their virtues, uses and care.

A “writer in residence” or an “artist in residence” but collect storeys of people waiting, about their gardens, living memories: these can be anonymous but become a “volume” to be read and browsed through, and “grown” through time. We know of a medical centre where such stories have become a reference point for clients who read of others’ responses to their healing experiences and recognised by the medical practitioners as being central to all the work of the practice.

A changing exhibition of users’ responses to the garden in the corridor areas near the garden - paper, a pin board and a pen....

A changing sculpture that users can alter – a living piece that reflects the users’ presence. This could be a rearrangement to pieces or a changing configuration of stones, wood, bricks, metal. People would be invited to move the pieces in any way they wanted. They could invent a title or leave a note about the meaning.


Other suggestions included: a hospital "Book of Days"; a group of art students following the garden for a year, with their work sold as prints or a calendar etc.; recordings with water effects, "relaxation" tapes; garden "vantage points," and so on.


The booklet includes a number of pages detailing traditional days of celebration throughout the year, such as Candlemas Day and May Day


Our thanks to Gibby Raine (who took part in the Hexham Garden commission), for giving us a copy of the booklet 

Sources: (1) From: “Çağdaş Drama Derneği Çarşamba Şöyleşileri 28 Ekim 2009 Güç Vericiler ve Alıcılar Arasında Önemli Karşılaşmalar” by Dorothy Heathcote. In: Yaratıcı Drama Dergisi 9/10 (2010), pp.215-230; here p.221 / p.230. The article is published in Turkish and English. There are some errors in the English version: in the Turkish version, for example, Dorothy speaks of “ruhaniligin”, or spirituality, and in the English version, the word is transcribed as “spiritually” – clearly a mistake. We have slightly amended the English version. The quote from Steve Chalke and Anthony Watkis is from the book Intelligent Church (2009), p.70.

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