“I think that if I wasn’t a writer, I could be a gardener,” wrote Anton Chekhov in 1900.
Playwright as well as a doctor, Anton Chekhov left a treasured notebook in which he painstakingly documented the names of every one of the 159 different species that he planted in his garden. His happiest hours were spent tending to his roses and pouring over seed catalogs, and when it became clear that his tuberculosis was terminal, Chekhov’s devotion to his garden reached almost obsessive levels. Every day he would head outside, tools in hand, until his illness prevented him being able to bend down to prune. His appreciation for the natural world permeates his writing.
In 2008, the Anton Chekhov Foundation was established in the U.K. by Rosamund Bartlett, which is devoted to continuing the writer’s humanitarian legacy. Inspired by Chekhov’s passion, the foundation is planning to create a series of gardens across the U.K., Russia and the Ukraine as part of a project called “Anton Chekhov’s Garden.” They hope to cultivate environments where people receiving medical care and those providing that care can enjoy the peace and recuperation that green spaces offer.
The first of the Chekhov “healing gardens” was launched as a show garden at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in the U.K., where it won a silver medal. The garden was set in an orchard and the centerpiece was a colorful wooden structure based on Chekhov’s country house, which he used for writing and treating his patients. There was also old desk in the garden, based on Chekhov’s own, and surrounded by medicinal plants and Russian perennials.
The garden, designed by Anna Benn and Hannah Gardner, has now been moved to a Center for Health in Devon. The garden will also be used to grow vegetables and herbs to provide natural remedies for the health center, just as Chekhov did for his own patients, to compliment conventional treatments.
Hospital gardens used to be an important part of healthcare culture, but that is something that has been lost. They provided wonderful food and a space to relax. Now all we have are grey buildings and fast food.
Cover image: Still Life of Roses in a Glass by Jan Frans van Dahl