It was 37 years ago when I started my nurse training in large institutions, that I realised the importance of environments in relation to the wellbeing of the people I cared for. Taking people on holiday to lovely places with wonderful gardens had an immediate impact on their happiness and mental wellbeing and this is where my interest started.

Moving from the institutions to community housing led to great opportunities in being creative in the garden. From sensory gardens to vegetable gardens, this brought togetherness, sharing of hobbies and ideas and I saw a change in individual health, often lessening anxiety and distress.

In my own life, my first house was a small town house with a small yard which was transformed to a lovely area with variety of plants and creative space, which was a haven after a difficult day at work. Over the years I moved house, each time with a larger garden and more work as every garden needed a complete overhaul! The gardens always had lots of visitors; the people I supported often came to visit and would benefit from the environment.

I was unprepared at the age of 50 to lose everything I had worked so hard to build up over the years. After a traumatic few years, my marriage broke down and I ended up making a decision to leave the home and walk away with very little. My own mental health had suffered enormously and I needed to start again. After several house moves and no garden I was always looking for the opportunity to find somewhere special. My life gradually got back on track and I met and married a wonderful man and I continued my work within learning disability services, before taking early retirement at the age of 55.

It was after this that the once in a lifetime chance came my way. For as long as I remember I had always wanted to live in the village of Ashcombe in Dawlish, Devon. I would often pass the fairy tale cottage that belonged to the estate and thought how wonderful it would be to live there. I couldn’t believe our luck when it came up for rent last May (2016) and we were delighted to have been chosen to live there. It had a wonderful history and had been the village School house. More recently it had been rented out as a holiday home, so the garden had been neglected and was in need of some tender loving care.

Over the following year, I spent hours every day (in between working on the bank) in the garden, getting it back to some of its former glory. I am a regular visitor to the local National Garden Scheme High Garden Nurseries in Kenton and get lots of advice and wonderful plants there. Our garden has caused lots of local interest and we began to get lots of visitors locally and from people passing by or on holiday. Everyone has commented on how lovely it was to see our progress and what a tranquil environment it was.

I also have lots of visits from people I have known over the years who have experienced anxiety and distress and together we sit, chat have coffee, cake and enjoy the garden, the birds and wildlife. One lady who I had supported for 36 years came to visit and didn’t want to go home as she loved it so much. I would regularly send her photos and she always asked about the garden and what I was doing next. Sadly this year she passed away, but I’m so glad she had the opportunity to visit.

The only thing that was still missing from my life was a dog and it was October last year that we got a beautiful working cocker spaniel who has fitted in perfectly. She has a wonderful nature and has proven a great success with all our visitors.

This year I made a decision to start working for myself, providing home assistance enabling people to remain in their own home with some support. The people I support love seeing the photos of the garden and a few have been to visit and enjoy time there, even enjoying some of the produce we have grown.

After putting in so much hard work, it was my friend who suggested this year I entered the Dawlish in Bloom competition and I was delighted to win Best Private Dwelling. This led to more visitors and a visit from the local National Garden Scheme representative Jenny Phillips to give advice on what work needs to take place to make it an open garden, possibly in 2019. A return visit is planned for next year and we are hoping it will be a positive outcome.


Vanessa (left middle) with her Dawlish in Bloom prize.


So the garden isn’t just a garden. It’s a place to relax, heal and as my visitors say, ‘just chill.’ For me, it’s played a big part in maintaining my own mental health and wellbeing bringing a sense of peace and I just love coming home.

Tamsin Bentham wrote the following:

I've gone through some good and hard times in my life, like most of us I suppose. But in this particular time of my life, I felt my world around me crashed, I felt so lost. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, overthinking the past and thinking the worst for the future… it was hell! My mind couldn't stop working, like a cog wheel in a clock going round and around and around. A good night sleep just did not exist.
I kept my circle of friends small.

But one Vanessa Hurley who, in my eyes is truly remarkable in many ways, invited me stay in her amazing home… it was like being a fairy tale... we talked for 7 hours that evening... just talking about our lives.
I went to bed just after midnight… I remember lying in the bed, the curtains undrawn looking through the huge window to the dark sky above… and I felt nothing, the cog wheel in the clock stopped… for the first time in months, I felt nothing except for absolute peace. I slept that night, like a baby.

I woke up feeling so relaxed, nothing bother me at all. It was beautiful Sunday morning, so I sat out in the garden… and the feeling I had was something truly spiritual. Looking at the Chocolate box old school house, the garden in its splendour, the sky, the fresh air, the birds chirping … everything around me was pure as gold. Of all the things I will remember in my life… this will most definitely be one of them… it saved me.


Tamsin Bentham

Many thanks to Queen’s Nurse Vanessa Hurley for writing this blog post. 

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