Planting Hope for People Living with Paralysis

If you have ever been hospitalised over an extended period of rehabilitation, you will remember that feeling of being cooped up indoors with only an, often unpleasant, urban view from a window at which to look. Not so in Horatio’s Garden Scotland sited in the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, where the garden is a veritable oasis of planting magic, fully accessible for both wheelchairs and hospital beds.

A Sanctuary Garden

Horatio’s Garden is a charity which creates and cares for stunning sanctuary gardens in NHS spinal injury centres, named after Horatio Chapple, a remarkable young man with the original vision for a garden designed to aid patients with spinal injuries, who tragically lost his own life at just seventeen years old. There are currently five Horatio’s Gardens in the UK, with two more under development. The growing body of research which recognises the improved health and well-being benefits of gardens need look no further than Horatio’s Gardens to see the positive effect on patient rehabilitation which access to such a natural space brings.

Horticultural Therapy

In addition to being able to be in the garden to read, to chat, to have a cup of tea with a visitor, or to feel the sun on your face during spinal rehabilitation, patients can take part in regular horticultural therapy sessions. These sessions lead patients through purposeful gardening activities to engage them in all aspects of plant cultivation from sowing seed to harvesting crops; from taking cuttings to cutting flowers for indoor displays. Patients can learn new gardening skills at their own pace, with activities designed to be accessible through the use of raised beds, whilst maximising social, cognitive, and physical functions as well as enhancing general health and well-being.

Garden Design

Horatio’s Garden Scotland, which is in the spinal unit for the whole of Scotland, was designed by award-winning garden designer and Chelsea Flower Show judge, James Alexander-Sinclair and opened in September 2016. It is maintained by patients and willing volunteers under the guiding hand of Head Gardener, Sallie Sillars. 

The main garden features a woodland walkway which is overlooked by the wards. This area is bursting with Verbena bonariensis, Salvia ‘Amistad’, and Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Fat Domino’ at this time of year. Wildlife is encouraged to the garden through both the planting and the bird feeders located outside every window, which gives patients something green and vibrant to look out on even when they are unable to get outside.

Photo credit: Lucy Shergold
Photo credit: Lucy Shergold

There is a greenhouse area in Horatio’s Garden Scotland so all sorts of plants and edibles can be cultivated and raised beds of strawberries, salads, and herbs on wheels can be moved to suit accessibility levels of patients.

Touchingly, there is a children’s play area right in the heart of Horatio’s Garden Scotland so patients with young families who are hospitalised for an extended period of time are still able to access the outdoors to watch their children play and plant vegetables together. This, alongside the physiotherapy garden, where patients are learning to use wheelchairs or crutches, are reminders that the garden is providing so much more than simply a nice view or smell: it is supporting the well-being of the whole patient and their families.

The courtyard area which is right at the heart of the unit enjoys a totally different atmosphere from the rest of the garden. Enclosed on all sides, accessible to all, it has benches to rest on, running water to soothe, enclosed outdoor pods to sit or read in so patients can still be outside in all weathers, and a fully accessible outdoor kitchen for making a cuppa for visitors. The planting which includes Anenome ‘Ruffled Swan’, Hosta ‘Purple Heart’, Echinacea ‘Hot Summer’, and Geranium ‘Azure Rush’ frames the courtyard, giving it a healing ambience – it is a truly breathtaking space.

The courtyard area before transformation
The courtyard area after transformation

New Garden Room

Now in its fourth year, the planting has filled out to wonderfully embrace the garden space but the team are not resting on their laurels, as work is already underway on a beautiful new garden room! The original designs for the garden space featured a collection of garden pods in the courtyard. Since the garden opened in 2016, these pods have been hugely popular with patients and staff alike, both as a place to serenely appreciate the planting in all winds and weathers, as well as a place to speak with loved ones and get to know fellow patients.

The new garden room will be a larger space offering people comparable calm and solace, whilst it will also ensure that the charity-run horticultural therapy sessions can continue in the garden consistently throughout the year. Head Gardener Sallie SIllars says, “It makes a real difference in rehabilitation to enable patients to spend time away from the ward, to help them feel in touch with nature and develop a passion for gardening that may well be a source of lifelong support and comfort.”

Photo credit: Lucy Shergold
Photo credit: Lucy Shergold

Supporting Horatio’s Garden Scotland

If you would like to get involved in supporting Horatio’s Garden Scotland, you are welcome to visit the garden or to arrange a visit for your local gardening group, once restrictions allow, by simply emailing Sallie Sillars, the remarkable Head Gardener, to join a tour of the space. The garden will not disappoint and visits always end with a cup of tea and a slice of something nice made by a willing band of volunteers!

Horatio’s Gardens across the UK are always on the lookout for volunteers to help with the upkeep of the garden, provide therapeutic and creative activities, entertain with music or laughter, help with fundraising, spend time with patients, or make the tea for those touring the garden.

Horatio’s Gardens describe themselves as “planting hope for people living with paralysis”, and yet, they are so much more. Sallie hopes to “continue to share the benefits of the garden with the patients here, being mindful of what is around us, taking time to listen, look, feel, and smell the garden and everything in it.” 

Horatio’s Garden Scotland is a showcase of the way we should be managing patient care in hospitals. By making a beautiful and vibrant garden space available to patients both through the window from hospital beds, and by allowing beds and wheelchairs to fully access the outdoor space, Horatio’s Garden recognises and promotes the health and well-being benefits of greenspace in patient rehabilitation and blazes the trail all healthcare settings should be adopting. 

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