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St Mary’s Therapeutic Garden: A haven of calm in the heart of Lewisham (Lewisham Community Garden series, part 5)

By Josey Crane Burrows (Good Food Lewisham volunteer)

A beautiful Prayer Tree greets you as you enter St. Mary's Therapeutic Garden - a place where people can tie a ribbon asking for help and healing for either themselves or their loved ones. I met with the warm and welcoming volunteers and church parish members, Wendy Dean, Marion Watson and Mark Symons. I was in familiar territory, I went to St. Mary’s Primary School opposite the garden. I remember walking down the path that leads to the now therapeutic garden many times as a child, back then it was overgrown and disused, so it was great to see it transformed into the calm and much loved haven it is today.

The garden was set up between the Ladywell Unit (SLaM - South London and Maudsley NHS trust) and St. Mary’s Church in 2017 to help support people with their mental health and well-being through gardening. The hospital sits just behind the garden so it's well placed for patients, visitors and staff to come down and enjoy the space.

The garden has perennial beds, wildflower meadows, an orchard, a woodland area and raised beds for vegetables and salads. Mark tells me they’re currently growing broad-beans, garlic, red and white onions, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, dwarf beans, potatoes and turnips as well as herbs like sage. Some of the produce is enjoyed by the locals and volunteers and some is donated to a local food bank in New Cross. 

They also offer gardening sessions to Year 2 pupils at St. Mary’s Primary School once a term. The kids love to help out - they rake up fallen leaves, use the wheelbarrow, sweep the paths, plants bulbs and seeds, learn about composting, help to refurbish the bug-hotel and learn about mini-beasts.

In 2019 they were awarded £10,000 by the Lottery to transform part of the neglected north side of the churchyard.

They used the money to engage professional gardener, Sue Luxton, to help plan and carry out the project and purchase plants, materials, equipment and a large waterbutt to harvest rain water from the church roof.

They also ran a successful Aviva crowd-funding project where they raised £5,452 and were able to buy a second waterbutt to catch rain from the church roof.

And in 2022, they also received a donation which allowed for an old cracked path in the north churchyard to be restored and now more visitors can benefit from spending time in that area.

Volunteer sessions, Community Gardening sessions and a chance to pause

  • Regular gardening sessions every Tuesday afternoon - 1-3pm (until 3:30pm during the summer months) with time for tea, coffee and cake after the sessions.

  • At the end of each session, volunteers are offered the chance to pause in quiet, to bathe in the sounds of nature and to just be.

  • Community Gardening Sessions - usually every 1st Saturday in the month 10:30 - 12:30pm - the next dates are Saturday 6th April, 11th May and 6th July.

What’s the one thing?

We ask all the community gardens what the one thing is they’d like people to know about their garden and this is what they said:

“We’re here, free and open for all to enjoy”.

The vision for the future: A community kitchen using the food grown locally

Marion and Wendy shared their vision for the future with me - bringing people together, offering community cookery sessions using the food grown locally in the garden for the community to share and enjoy. I loved hearing their vision and hope it soon becomes a reality, as I’m sure many others would.

In a relatively short space of time, the volunteers at St. Mary's Therapeutic Garden have transformed an unloved piece of land into a haven of calm, where people come together through gardening to support their mental health and well-being. It's such a privilege getting to visit the community gardens in Lewisham, I get to see the good work that's achieved when people come together with a shared goal.

Many thanks to Wendy, Marion and Mark for the warm welcome and showing me around, it was a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

If you’re interested in volunteering please pop along on a Tuesday afternoon.

Find out more about St. Mary's Therapeutic Garden here :

If you'd like to be added to our Food Growing WhatsApp group or if you'd like your garden to be featured in this series, please email:

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