News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

A ‘garden room’ at Ninewells Hospital

The Ninewells greening project set out to demonstrate how to create a green, health promoting hospital. This ground breaking project shows that with good design and access improvements, hospital grounds can be used by everyone for physical activity, recreation, recuperation, viewing nature or simply to spend time relaxing or convalescing.

Ninewells panorama

The latest vision for the project is a 'garden room', situated in the community garden. It will provide a sheltered space, a place to work when the weather is bad, a communal space for volunteers to meet and visit, somewhere for workshops, and an accessible space where frail patients or people with mobility issues can sit and enjoy views of the garden and woodland.

Thanks to £50,000 funding from Cash4Communities and Forestry Commission Scotland and the Green Exercise Partnership, this vision is to become a reality.

Working with NHS Tayside, we ran a design competition where entrants were asked to create a bespoke 'garden room', which will overlook the community garden within the woodland of the hospital. The room will be built using sustainable Scottish timber from BSW Timber Group in order to promote a better understanding of using timber in construction.

The 'garden room'

The Voigt Partnership were delighted to win the competition.

Jonathan Reeve, the Architect explained: "The Leaf Room is inspired from a natural form helping to connect the building to the garden it serves. The proposed building replicates this natural form with a leaf shaped roof overhanging a rectangular shaped room underneath.

The leaf room 

"The building will be constructed primarily in Natural Scottish Timber: the main structure being Douglas Fir columns supporting a large primary beam (main leaf stem) with supporting rafters (leaf veins). The external walls will be highly insulated traditional timber frame construction with Scottish Larch cladding finish. The roof  shape lends itself to water collection at both sides of the roof for gardening use.

"This main room is a rectangular shape which will not only be economical to build, but will also allow various functions to happen inside: a living room, a garden retreat, a community presentation/talk, an educational training facility etc.

"Large folding sliding doors at the corner will fold away to allow the corner to become fully opened – seamlessly blending the interior with the exterior. The decking outside will be a continuation of the timber flooring inside further assisting in this illusion/connection between inside and out and helping people inside the building connect to the garden. The corner window will not only connect the room with the garden, but will look out to the nearby Maggie's Centre.

"The proposal is innovative, exciting, fully realistic and buildable; and will sit comfortably in the garden space it occupies, creating a strong connection between building and garden. The new room will be a fantastic addition to the excellent existing community garden."

3871 Ninewells Garden Room 3D Animation Aug 2015 - The Voigt Partnership from Voigt Partnership Ltd on Vimeo.

The 'physic and sensory garden'

This area of the garden showcase how plants and herbs are used in medicine. The physic garden is laid out according to hospital wards and explains which plants are used to treat different medical conditions and illnesses. The garden and its woodland surrounding are also being used for recovery and treatment programmes. Staff who have retired from the hospital now volunteer in the garden and the two on site nurseries visit the garden. The garden featured on Beechgrove Garden in 2014 and local people, hospital staff and garden volunteers did a lot of work creating the garden.

Garden plants

The 'garden room' will become the heart and soul of the woodland with its wood burning stove, it will offer a warm and welcoming place for staff, patients, volunteers and local people to meet and spend time in the woodland garden. A haven away from the clinical environment of the hospital to relax and unwind.

Sarah Griffiths, Garden Co-ordinator at Ninewells said: "We are really excited about the winning Leaf Room design. We have a lot of visitors to the garden - both volunteers working to develop and maintain the garden, and those who come to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden and arboretum. The garden room and decking will allow visitors to enjoy the garden whatever the weather; make it a more comfortable experience for patients recovering from illness or surgery; as well as providing us with an indoor space to hold workshops and meetings - I can see it becoming a valuable resource for the whole hospital."

About the project

Ninewells entrance



Opening in 1974, the hospital recognised the therapeutic value to patients and staff of the external scenery. The intention was for wards to overlook quiet landscaped gardens and the Arboretum woodland.

From around the 1980s the Arboretum woodland was neglected and largely unmanaged. Access was restricted – with no facilities for staff, patients or visitors to spend time in the woodland.

In 2010, a survey was completed with 678 staff, students, patients, visitors and local residents to establish the current usage of the woodland, and to find out what people would like to see improved. It concluded that 66% staff and 88% of patients were unaware of Arboretum wood. 78% of staff and 66% of patients would like to see accessible paths to woodland.

The transformation

A steering group was formed in 2009 with members including Forestry Commission Scotland, NHS Tayside, Maggie's Centre and Dundee City Council to look at ways to make greater use of existing woodlands and greenspace in the grounds of Ninewells Hospital.

The group wanted to:

  • create an outdoor environment for health improvement;
  • improve the quality of green space in the hospital grounds; and
  • improve access to woodland and open space for staff, patients and local people.

A woodland management plan was developed and an overarching site master plan for the hospital grounds created, to help secure the long term future of the woodland and open space in the hospital grounds.

The transformation included:

  • bringing underused land in the hospital grounds into sustainable use by creating positive physical environments for health;
  • establishing high quality greenspace away from clinical environments of hospital wards;
  • creating all abilities paths with a network of short, medium and long distance trails;
  • installing signage, regular seating and rest areas along the paths;
  • improving access to the woodlands and greenspace for a wide range of users including patients and visitors and local residents;
  • creating new entrances to the woodland;
  • carrying out remedial tree work;
  • planting trees and shrubs, and thinning overgrown over areas to allow clear sight lines along paths; and
  • creating a community garden with physic and sensory areas.

 Ninewells garden

Health professionals have traditionally used contact with nature activities as part of a holistic programme of treatment for patients and this has been re-established at Ninewells through a programme of activities in the hospital grounds started with trained health walk leaders running weekly health walks for patients from the Maggie's Centre. This provides patients with the opportunity to spend time in high quality greenspace to aid their recovery.

Volunteers in the garden