Gardening for Better Health

Gardening is good for you. That’s the message from PROFESSOR DEREK O’KEEFFE, a Consultant Endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway who works with patients to improve their cardiovascular health. His show garden, Croí – The Cardiovascular Garden, will demonstrate the role gardens, plants, and technology can play in protecting the heart.

Did you know that plants are used in many life-saving medicines? Digitalis, for instance, is a key ingredient in in Digoxin, a treatment for cardiac arrythmias and heart failure. It will feature in Croí – the Cardiovascular Garden at Bord Bia Bloom, which has been created by Professor Derek O’Keeffe, with help from Peter O’Brien & Sons (Landscaping), to promote the benefits that plants and gardening can have on your physical and mental health.

Croí – The Cardiovascular Garden

‘I have been a gardener my whole life, so I know personally just how good gardening is for your health,’ says Derek. ‘Not only does it get you out in the fresh air and increases mobility, but studies also show it helps to reduce stress and anxiety which has a positive impact on your mental health and in turn, your heart health.’

It was when Derek visited Bord Bia Bloom in 2019 that he connected this passion for gardening with his role as a physician and educator. ‘I am always looking for ways to talk to people about the importance of heart health and I know from my training that plants are used in many modern medicines so I thought a show garden would be a great medium to communicate this message.’

He approached Croí, the West of Ireland charity which aims to lead the fight against heart disease and stroke, to join as a sponsor and planning was well advanced for a show garden at Bloom 2020 when the pandemic hit. Two years later, Derek and Croí are excited to finally have an opportunity to bring the concept garden to the Phoenix Park.

‘The garden deals with a serious topic but it is designed to communicate this in a fun, whimsical way,’ says Derek. ‘As well as featuring structures and planting that are inspired by the cardiovascular system, we will bring our anthropomorphic robot, Dave (Droid Audio Visual Educator), to Bloom to teach random and interesting facts about health and nutrition.’

Eating better and engaging in more physical activity are crucial to improve heart health, he says. ‘Many of my patients have diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and subsequent heart problems. Some of this is genetics but western lifestyles are also having a huge impact on cardiovascular health. We all need to make better choices about what and how we eat and this garden aims to encourage visitors to think about the food that we consume. This involves cutting down on salt, cutting out fatty foods, and reducing sugar intake while also engaging in a more active lifestyle.’


Professor Derek O’Keeffe

Gardening is a good place to start making changes. ‘This garden aims to demonstrate that there are simple steps that you can take to improve your heart health,’ says Derek. ‘There is something about growing a plant and helping it thrive that is so therapeutic. Growing your own food is a great way to increase your mobility and improve your nutrition and it is so exciting to pick fruit or vegetables from your garden that you have grown from seeds.’

Professor Derek O’Keeffe is a Consultant Endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway and a Professor of Medical Devices at the National University of Ireland, Galway. You can read more about his Croí garden here.