Ninewells Community Garden: Mainstreaming health and wellbeing into Urban Agriculture and greenspace networks

Ninewells Community Garden is a health orientated initiative located in the grounds of Ninewells Hospital, a large teaching hospital in the Scottish City of Dundee. Its mission is to promote physical activity and good health through community gardening in an environment where horticulture supports wellbeing, therapy and rehabilitation. Success has largely been the result of an ambitious vision and the commitment of volunteers.

Introduction and History

The initiative started in 2009 and resulted through the efforts of a group of interested volunteers working together with National Health Service (NHS) staff to plan and create a community garden within a walled area of woodland within the hospital grounds.

In 2011, work started with paths, raised beds, a small orchard and wildlife area. The project soon expanded to include a sensory garden, a physic garden, a “Leaf Room” indoor amenity space, further raised beds and an extensive range of facilities.

Nowadays, the garden is open for everyone to enjoy, including patients, staff and the local community. NCG works with a wide range of volunteers and groups throughout the year to deliver therapeutic gardening activities for all ages and abilities and to provide a supportive environment where people, as well as plants, can flourish and grow. In 2013 NCG became a registered charity.

The Motivation for the Project

At the time of the project’s inception, there was a growing evidence base showing that green environments can also be healthy environments. Indeed, it is now clearly understood that well-designed outdoor spaces can reduce stress and can encourage healthy behaviour. High quality greenspaces surrounding healthcare facilities have also been shown to improve staff performance, recruitment and retention.

Ninewells was fortunate to have extensive grounds which provided an undeveloped health improvement opportunity right on the very doorstep of the hospital. This opportunity has since been realised (with technical help and funding support from Forestry Commission Scotland), to compliment the sterile indoor treatment facilities of the hospital with the outdoor garden and greenspaces. The benefits for prevention, treatment, recovery and rehabilitation have been considerable.


One of the key objectives for NCG has been to find out how staff, patients, visitors and the local community felt about and used the Ninewells Hospital grounds. That information helped the project to understand what changes were needed to encourage greater access and use of the grounds for active recreation, socialising, rehabilitation, relaxation and health improvement activity.

NCG continues to consult regularly with the volunteers, partners and the diverse organisations which support the project. The Board of Trustees consists of 9 local people; the skills, knowledge, leadership and governance that they provide means that the NCG continues to flourish. They contribute many volunteer hours and are key to the success of the subgroups, where all the operational work is done.

Current Activities

In line with increasing production of organic fruit and vegetables and an apiary producing honey, the NCG has provided monthly opportunities for participants to cook and eat together whilst delivering a series of healthy eating and cooking workshops for garden participants. 

To increase their ability to provide a range of meals and ideas, NCG have created an outdoor kitchen and a dining area in the garden supplied with freshly harvested produce from the vegetable plots. NCG have also provided additional training for volunteers in areas such as food hygiene, nutrition, mosaic workshops, “moth nights”, butterfly counts and participation in the RSPB “Big Garden Birdwatch”. They celebrate the Garden with events aimed at the wider community, using the skills and knowledge acquired by the volunteers. Links to these events can be found on the NCG website and YouTube channel.

To help alleviate some of the pressures on hospital staff during the Covid Pandemic, the group have also set up a supported ‘Drop In’ facility within the garden.

In addition, the added value that Conservation Volunteers bring to NCG is substantial. For example, volunteers deliver lifelong learning through activities, demonstrations and encouraging participation in good horticultural practice and healthy living. The garden creates a sense of community through providing shared space and social interactions. Many of the participants want to help to create a place that is also productive; they are aware of global issues and want to link local food growing to a sustainable environment. Some of volunteers have also acknowledged the link between being overweight and poor health and the NCG supports them with lifestyle habits.

The Bigger Picture

NCG is working with NHS Tayside colleagues to implement the Scottish Government policy ‘Our Natural Health Service’. This aims to make more use of the outdoors to increase physical and mental wellbeing and tackle health inequalities. 

As a member of The Dundee Green Health Partnership for the past 3 years and an early adopter of the Green Health Prescription pathway, NCG have established a clear and simple referral route for prescribers to nature-based interventions. Through the project’s links with external partner organisations, including Nature Scot, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Scottish Forestry, the work has been widely disseminated and celebrated across Scotland.

Following a new successful grant award, for 3 years, from Community Led Lottery funding, NCG is now focusing upon the future, consolidating their work to connect people with nature, and engaging with more children, young people and families. They are also building strong partnerships, particularly with their closest neighbouring gardens in Charleston & Menzieshill.  

In addition NCG have also been awarded NHS Charities Together Funding. This investment enables NCG to deepen engagement with hospital staff, patients & families. Furthermore NCG will integrate the garden and its activities into the hospital’s Covid recovery plans as well as bringing the wider community of the hospital into the garden. This will enable staff to determine the activities and programs, and contribute to design/development of the garden & surrounding greenspaces.

Critical to the successful establishment and sustainability of NCG has been a shared vision, committed partners, and ensuring a supported environment for volunteers and those in local communities who benefit from and contribute to the endeavour.

Ninewells Community Garden