A unique ‘Otherness Garden’ has been created to shine the spotlight on mental illness at this year’s Gardening Scotland event, taking place at the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh, from 31 May to 2 June.

The event boasts an exciting time for amateur gardeners and the horticultural industry alike. This year Chartered Horticulturist and garden designer Tom Angel has teamed up with award-winning mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland, Green Space Landscapes and urbanpods to create a show garden that brings mental illness to the forefront at Scotland’s largest gardening show.

And Tom's hard work and innovative design has been rewarded - winning the Silver Gilt Medal from judges from the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society!

The Otherness Garden (pictured here during construction this week) is themed around some of the different ways of managing mental illness, and ties in with the acclaimed book The Recovery Letters - letters written by people recovering from depression to people experiencing depression.

Symbolism within the garden includes a transition from dark gravel to fresh grass, indicative of life renewing and moving on, juxtaposed with stepping stones that gradually reduce in size, speaking of difficulties encountered in managing mental illness.

Three of the steps are glass-topped and have items on display to represent medication, meditation and healthy living. The use of squares & circles and cubes & balls throughout the garden reflect the ‘otherness’ often felt by sufferers in their relationship with mainstream society.

As well as this symbolism, the planting within the garden is delicate-looking but extremely hardy – speaking of hidden resilience despite feelings of fragility, and at the same time showing visitors unexpectedly delicate plants that will withstand the Scottish climate.

Arriving at the pod, the interior is bedecked in vertical planting, providing a tranquil space, and symbolising not a destination, but moments of respite that may be achievable for people during their journey managing mental illness. A sound file of people reading excerpts from The Recovery Letters is the final piece of symbolism within the garden, representing talking therapies.


Design/Construction team

Tom Angel, a chartered horticulturist and horticultural consultant who specialises in creating imaginative garden designs with a focus on plant biodiversity. (www.angelhort.com)

Greenspace Landscapes, owned by Ruairidh MacDonald, is a dynamic and ambitious landscaping company with a focus on uncompromising quality. (www.greenspace-landscapes.co.uk)

urbanpods are providing the spectacular garden room used in the show garden (www.urbanpods.co.uk)

Tom Angel says “It’s been a great privilege to design the garden. The subject matter is close to my heart, and it has been great to have James Withey (The Recovery Letters) to help keep me right on this. It was important to me too that visitors will be able to interact with the garden, so they can look at the plants (and perhaps discover some new ones they can use in their own gardens), examine the features, and enjoy the amazing urbanpod!”

Ross Iwaniec, Owner of urbanpods said: “We are delighted to form part of this wonderful garden that is sending out such a powerful message. Our pod offers a sanctuary within the garden to smell the aroma of the plants and take time for you. It helps you unwind and leave the daily pressures behind you.”

Ruairidh MacDonald of Greenspace Landscapes Ltd says “This has been a great project to be involved with, and it’s been really enjoyable creating a garden that carries such an important message.”


The charity

Support in Mind Scotland is an award-winning national mental health charity with more than 40 years’ experience of delivering services and support to those affected by mental illness, including families, friends and carers. It has particular expertise in helping people who are living with serious mental illness, including psychosis and schizophrenia.

Support in Mind Scotland CEO Frances Simpson said: “The Otherness Garden is a brilliant idea and reflects the way our services support people living with mental illness to recover. We are proud to be associated with such an innovative and creative project, which will help raise mental health awareness and bring a lot of enjoyment to the many people visiting Gardening Scotland this year.”

The charity supports 1,300 people each week across 25 diverse projects throughout Scotland and is a founding member of Mental Health UK – along with its sister charities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. (www.supportinmindscotland.org.uk)

The Recovery Letters – brainchild of James Withey, this book (and website) saves lives. (http://therecoveryletters.com)

James says: "It's an honour to be part of 'The Otherness Garden'. Gardening is about hope and faith and the letters in 'The Recovery Letters' book exemplify this perfectly. Tom's beautiful garden shows that we're stronger than we think and that we can manage the torments of mental illness with the right support and coping mechanism."

Above: The finished article... after a lot of hard work by Tom Angel and his team.