Horatio's Garden: A Sneak Preview

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the press preview of Horatio's Garden at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury. It looks very different to my last visit at the end of May*, when just the outline of the garden's structure was in evidence.

I'm pleased to report the press weren't the first people previewing the garden. The patients had the first 'taste' of their garden the day before, which is just as it should be.

The speech makers - Cleve West, Olivia Chapple and Annie Maw
There were speeches, laughter and tears. Most of all there was plenty of time to talk to people about the garden. The most amazing thing is how it not only softens the brutalist architecture of the hospital it surrounds, but it also makes the place look outwards rather than in on itself. Annie Maw put it really well:

For once I'm turning my back on the spinal unit and at last I'm seeing the possibilities of the outside world. 

When Annie was a patient at the unit, it was months before she went outside. When at last she did, it was hearing a skylark in the distance, which she says was the turning point in her recovery. Birds and insects have already found the garden to their liking.

The garden won't just be a garden. It'll also be a space for art, theatre, music and community projects. Olivia Chapple outlined the partnerships already being formed with local schools and the wider community in Salisbury. It's another aspect of looking to the outside world to bring new experiences and possibilities to patients and Salisbury alike.

Cleve spoke about how he'd been taken around in a wheelchair to understand a little of the needs of his clients. As a consequence a slight slope to the site was removed (OK for more experienced patients, but too much of a challenge for those just starting to get used to their new life) and the installation of a special resin bound surface. Patients have already given the smoothness of the latter a big thumbs up.

This is the 'driving engine' of the garden where patients will sow seeds, pot them on and get growing. They will be growing some of their own food, which they will then take inside to their adapted kitchen to get cooking. The planters you see are on wheels, so they can be moved around according to how the patients are using the space.

Having seen the garden in May, this was the most surprising part of the transformation as it takes what then looked like the most unpromising part of the space and makes it the heart of the patients' activities. There are also places here and throughout the garden where large umbrellas can be put up to provide extra shelter when needed.

Here are just a few of the many people who've worked extremely hard to make Horatio's Garden happen: Horatio's mother, gardeners, designers, volunteers, SSIT trustees etc. There's still work to do - 2,000 bulbs will be planted next month; the native hedge will be planted to screen out the car park and link the garden with the distant landscape; and the arch will get its covering of apple trees, carefully selected to include Horatio's favourites and to provide a long season of both blossom and apples.

Dorothy (the lady in the middle wheelchair, who was a patient at the hospital 2 years ago) will be working out how far into the borders she can get to plant bulbs with her long bulb planter. This shows how the garden will evolve over time to match patient's capabilities and needs.

I'll leave you with a final collage of some of my other pictures from the day...
... tomorrow is the official opening, with Frank Gardner performing the ceremonial duties and around 400 people expected to attend. You'll also be able to read what The Sunday Telegraph makes of it. I think it's one of the most important gardens of recent times and I hope it inspires the creation of many more hospital gardens in the years to come.

As I left to come home, I noticed a woman sitting on one of the benches talking to a young man in a wheelchair. The garden was safely back with its owners :)

* = do have a look at my link from my last visit - it provides a lot of background to the story of how Horatio's Garden came into being as well as showing the hardscaping work in progress.


  1. This looks superb. I think other patients will be envious! - will they be allowed to visit too, do you know?

  2. Michelle, thank you for sharing this ... it was a most uplifting start to my day!

  3. An outstanding project. The raised boxes on wheels are really effective. Gardening has such a healing component to it that its about time hospitals and other institutions start utilizing its benefits.

  4. It's been very well thought out for the patients to get the best use out of it. As an ex-Occupational Therpaist I'm so glad that Cleve spent time in a wheelchair to understand what would be needed!

    My sister spent a year in Stoke Manderville after her accident and I would have loved to have converted their gardens so that the patients could have appreciated and used them more!

  5. Lu - the spinal unit is on the edge of the hospital campus, so the likelihood of them finding the garden is quite small. How well the garden is publicised to them, is yet to be seen.

    However when I visited in May, I was told Horatio's Garden has sparked the development of 2 further gardens at the hospital. One for the nursery and the other for the heart unit. It's great news :)

    Linda - it looks even better when you're there.My camera has failed to pick out the lovely wafting of the Verbena bonariensis for instance.

    Cindy - I'm so pleased. I follow the work of Healingardens in the States - I know she's already made this garden known to her network :)

    ediblegardening - quite right, I've been campaigning for better public planting here on this blog for a number of years. That's one of the reasons why I was so keen to follow the story of Horatio's Garden.

    Nutty Gnome - great to have some feedback from a health professional :) The garden will change - patients, staff and volunteers are keen to get using the garden and to learn what needs to be done to make it an even better space :)

  6. eek - ediblegardening should read sensiblegardening.

    So sorry - I'm trying out a new laptop and had managed to accidentally make the writing super small and misread your name. A very warm welcome to Veg Plotting and I hope this hasn't put you off visiting again.


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