Mike Shone leads a small team of three looking after the horticultural requirements of the fifty-five acre site at Shrewsbury NHS Hospital.
Here, he explains to our editor about the working practices he has put into place to improve the ambience of the site
I often wonder how many people pay attention to the landscape features in an around their local hospitals, or indeed care about what it has to offer in terms of horticulture excellence, probably because, quite often, hospital visitors have more pressing things to worry about!
However, a lot of thought goes into planning and landscaping hospital grounds. One of the most essential reasons to landscape the area surrounding a hospital is for aesthetics. This not only promotes wellness for patients but makes for a pleasant environment for staff and visitors alike.
Landscaping does a lot more than cater for aesthetics though. It can be used to counter the negative effects of the environment. For example, trees will provide clean air, help reduce the cold winds in winter and provide much needed shade and a cooler environment in the summer.
Bedding and natural planting in and around courtyards, quadrangles and wards offer tranquil settings for the patients to enjoy. Carefully planned landscaping around a hospital helps to route foot traffic, promotes wildlife and adds value to property.
A recent visit to Shrewsbury NHS hospital gave me the opportunity to see all the merits and benefits of a well designed landscaping scheme in a hospital environment.
Some hospitals tender out their work to local contractors, however, in this case, Shrewsbury NHS hospital still employ their own direct labour gardening team who are responsible for looking after everything green within the grounds.
Mike Shone is the Head Gardener, who took up his post two years ago. He came with a wealth of experience having previously worked as a plants man at Dingle Nurseries for seven years and, prior to that, worked for himself for several years has a landscape gardener.
Mike is very much a hands on gardener; mind you, he does not have much choice as he only has a small team of two to help him look after the fifty-five acre site!
His assistants are Fiona Sands and Russell Rogerson. Between them they are responsible for cutting all grass areas, maintaining all the shrub beds, tree plantations and summer bedding schemes.
Mike took up the job because he saw the potential of the hospital grounds and what could be achieved if the correct planting materials were used to bring colour, shape and form to enhance what was, at the time, quite a bland landscape. In the two years he has been there, he has revitalised many areas with some dramatic and colourful planting schemes.
In the summer months, grass cutting takes up the lion's share of the work load. The grass is cut using a trusted Hayter LT324 triple cylinder and Hayter Condor pedestrian mowers.
All the grass areas are cut on a fourteen day cycle. He would like to increase the frequency, but resources and budgets dictate the quality of cut at present. As Mike suggests, cutting on a fourteen day cycle is not too bad when you get dry periods, however, this year, with so much moisture in the ground, cutting every fortnight does cause problems.
Like most hospitals, car parking is often a nightmare, with cars parking on every available bit of open space. There is simply not enough parking areas for the amount of cars that come on to the site, so it is inevitable that, at times, cars tend to park on areas of grass that require cutting. It is a constant battle to keep the grass areas tidy.
The mowers are set to cut between 30-35mm. Mike would like to get a rotary triple mower to complement the cylinder mower, which would give the team more flexibility and help speed up cutting times.
One of the most time consuming jobs is litter picking. Every morning, come wind, rain or shine, all three staff have to do a litter pick run, emptying litter bins outside the front of all building entrances.
With Mike being such a knowledgeable plants man, the hospital has benefitted from his new bedding and shrub schemes that are bringing a new look to the hospital, in terms of colour, scent and shape. Mike has been instrumental in designing many new bedding displays and replacing a lot of old tired plants.
Salt splash is a common problem on many of the shrub beds. When the local contractors salt the roads in the winter, a lot of salt finds it way onto the shrub beds. Over the years, this has resulted in die back and stunted plants, so Mike has completely replaced the beds with new soil and plants or simple used plants that are more salt tolerant.
He has also replaced many of the grass verges with new bedding schemes, one to provide colour but also to control foot traffic.
Mike was keen to show me around some of the seventeen quadrangles that are situated between the hospital buildings, these provide a welcome break between corridors and wards.
He is in the process of pruning and clearing out some of these areas. Mike enlisted the help of one of his friends, James Eccleston, to provide some hand carved wooded sculptures to enhance the look of these areas. One of these is a large bear carved out of a giant redwood, and weighing in at over a tonne and half! It now sits proudly in one of the quadrangles.
These quadrangles have become a haven for wildlife, particularly nesting birds that like the security of them. Ducks are a favourite, with as many as sixteen pairs of ducks regularly nesting in these areas. Despite putting signs out, patients and visitors still insist on feeding the birds, with all manner of foodstuffs, including chocolate! This causes the ducks to become ill, which is a constant frustration for Mike.
During the winter months, Mike and his staff allocate time to looking after the trees on the site. Mike and Fiona have chainsaw certificates and carry out all the light pruning work, crown lifting trees and shrubs that overhang grass areas to enable better access for the mowers.
The hospital has employed the services of a tree survey company to tag and record the condition of every tree, using GPS technology to map out the results. Once this information has been collated, the relevant tree work will be prioritised and carried out by an approved contractor.
Other work carried out during the winter months is the refurbishment of shrub beds, cleaning out old material and replanting with new.
Mike is delighted with the progress he and his team are making, especially on the new planting schemes. However, he admits it would be nice to have another member of staff and some additional mowing machinery to help improve the quality of the grass cutting around the hospital grounds. It is, as he points out, a very busy site, with not enough hours in the day to get all the work done.
Like most hospitals, they are always evolving and changing so there will always be new challenges for Mike and his staff to face in the coming years. It was certainly an eye opener seeing the sheer scale and size of the task such a small team undertake on a daily basis.
From what I saw, the hospital grounds are in good hands and will continue to improve under the leadership of Mike. So, the next time you visit any NHS hospital, spare a thought for the gardeners who work hard to keep the grounds looking their best.