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Forest Bathing goes for gold at RHS Chelsea

3rd June 2024

Last week marked the highlight of the gardening calendar when the best in class gathered to showcase their inspiring garden landscapes and designs.

Thanks to funding by the grant-making charity Project Giving Back, Muscular Dystrophy UK were at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with a garden inspired by the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing. Designed by garden and landscape designer Ula Maria, the garden offered an accessible immersive forest bathing experience featuring more than 50 birch trees and 4,000 plants.

In addition to having a Show Garden on Main Avenue, during the week, Muscular Dystrophy UK hosted an evening event for healthcare professionals to learn more about muscle wasting and weakening conditions. The Forest Bathing Institute were invited and provided support and insight into the well-being benefits of spending time in nature, particularly the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing.

Designed to create a sanctuary and safe place where people can connect with themselves, Ula Maria’s Forest Bathing Garden is all about connections and featured unique use of materials, such as the knapped flint wall, made a texture and design reminiscent of the muscle cells of people with muscular dystrophy when examined under a microscope.

Over fifty silver and white birch trees adorned the entire garden, helping to create the sense of being in a forest environment, even in the heart of Chelsea, in South-West London. With their grace and elegance, they provided the perfect canopy to shelter from the rain and the sun when it did shine during the rest of the week.

The variety of textures created within the Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Garden helped those with muscular dystrophy access the sensory-based aspect of the materials used, including the sound of running water and the colourways of white and mauve, reminiscent of ancient woodland. The wide pathways provided complete accessibility so everyone could enjoy the tranquillity of the garden setting, something that The Forest Bathing Institute strives to achieve in its mission of making nature available to all.

Indeed, Co-Founder of The Forest Bathing Institute Olga Terebenina commented on this: ‘During the Tuesday evening event hosted by Muscular Dystrophy UK, I was fortunate to have a discussion with Martin Hywood, who works for the charity and inspired elements of Ula Maria’s design by sharing his story. Martin lives with limb girdle muscular dystrophy and spoke about how he received his diagnosis in a very clinical environment and the importance of having accessible Forest Bathing spaces available to people with different abilities.

‘I explained that this constitutes a significant aspect of our work and is a key focus for us, as it is so important that everyone can access green spaces.’

During the evening, Gary Evans, Co-Founder, explained: ‘Both Olga and I were thrilled to be asked by the charity to provide support and insight into the physiological and mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and in particular, Forest Bathing, a practice underpinned by mindfulness.

‘We met with many healthcare practitioners from different disciplines and GPs, who were interested in learning more about green social prescribing and how it might assist their patients, plus the sense of calm that spending mindful time in nature can bring about.

‘It was also amazing that Ula Maria was awarded Best in Show and Gold for her Forest Bathing Garden. We are very proud to have supported this wonderful initiative and brought Forest Bathing and its healing benefits to the fore.’

Catherine Woodhead, Chief Executive at Muscular Dystrophy UK said: ‘People with a muscle wasting or weakening condition often tell us they feel alone and in shock following their initial diagnosis. We wanted to create a safe space – a place in nature to give comfort and clarity, which Ula Maria did perfectly with our Forest Bathing Garden.’

To learn more about the practice of Forest Bathing and the science behind it, you can read the published scientific papers and visit our website to learn more about The Forest Bathing Institute, its founders and its vision for the future.