Horatio’s Garden is a national charity creating and nurturing beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support everyone affected by spinal injury. We grow thriving communities to support patients, their families and friends facing long stays in NHS hospitals.
Leading landscape designers create these stunning sanctuaries, working in collaboration with prominent architects to design garden rooms ensuring the space can be used all year round. The gardens become an integral part of people’s lives throughout their time in hospital.
The charity is named after Horatio Chapple, a volunteer who had the original idea of creating a garden away from the wards for patients and their families.
Spinal cord injuries are traumatic, life-changing events. Patients often have little or no access to the outside world during their hospital stay. However, research shows that being in contact with a natural environment contributes to an improved sense of wellbeing, which can have a positive impact on patient rehabilitation.
In each project the charity funds a Head Gardener who leads a team of volunteers caring for the garden and offering creative and therapeutic activities. These include gardening, art, live music, seasonal events and artists’ residencies, as well as endless tea and homemade cake. All our volunteers share an enjoyment of being in the garden and contribute to the happy, uplifting atmosphere which permeates each Horatio’s Garden; some are former patients and some are young ‘Volunteens’ seeking life experiences.
To date we have opened four gardens in Salisbury, Glasgow, Stoke Mandeville and Oswestry. We are currently working on projects in London and Cardiff and our vision is to create a thriving Horatio’s Garden in every NHS spinal injury centre.
Patients are at the heart of everything we do. We are compassionate, caring, kind and inclusive. The gardens enrich the lives of all those associated with them.
We are dedicated to supporting people affected by spinal injury and treating everyone with dignity and respect. We actively encourage diversity and welcome involvement from all sectors of society.
Our gardens are pioneering and innovative places of exceptional standard. We are staffed by outstanding, enthusiastic employees, trustees and volunteers. We champion the benefits of gardens to health.
We are professional, ethical, accountable and evidence based. Everyone associated with the charity is trustworthy and there is a core of strong governance. We respect the confidentiality of everyone.
We nurture all our gardens to ensure their longevity. We have a positive impact on the environment. Our financial strategy and fundraising plans provide long term security for the future.
“The first time I went into the garden I was overwhelmed with tears and a sense of relief and excitement that there was somewhere to go other than the ward.”
The charity’s beautiful, perennial gardens are thoughtfully designed by leading landscape designers, who understand the importance of creating a safe and fully accessible space for patients and their loved ones. Everything is carefully considered and 57% of the cost of each Horatio’s Garden is incurred simply as a result of having to create a specialist garden for acutely ill patients in a clinical environment.
Despite being on-site in a busy hospital, all the gardens are designed to be incredibly quiet. Hedges and fences are in place to reduce the noise from surrounding car parks, as well as from people toing and froing from neighbouring hospital buildings.
Clever planting ensures that the gardens are calm, welcoming places, where all the plants and flowers have been carefully chosen to stimulate the different senses and encourage wildlife.
Each acclaimed garden designer collaborates with a prominent architect to create the interior spaces of the garden, which include accessible garden rooms and garden pods. These offer patients and their loved ones the chance to appreciate the garden all year round, either alone or in company.
The charity’s outstanding gardens are noted for their excellence, particularly by the Society of Garden Designers who believe that “this is what healing gardens should be like”. We are regularly approached by other projects for advice and we are keen to share all that we’ve learnt over the past eight years.
Every Horatio’s Garden is a sanctuary with a positive purpose, so much so that you often forget that you are in a hospital, instead feeling almost like you are at home.
Horatio’s Garden provides patients and their loved ones with somewhere to find much-needed solace in a stunning natural environment. The hard landscaping is crucial, as the gardens must be totally flat to ensure that patients can move easily throughout the garden. As such, every Horatio’s Garden has resin bonded flooring throughout to ensure safe passage for everyone, whether in a wheelchair or in a bed.
The gardens also feature:
• A fully accessible garden room and/or pods with automatic doors and lighting, ensuring patients with limited hand function can still use all areas of the garden without support if they wish
• A fully accessible greenhouse
• Raised bed planters, so patients can cultivate plants and flowers with ease
• Wheelchair training area, designed to support patients’ physical rehabilitation
• Bespoke, adapted furniture for wheelchair use
• Vast parasols, crucial as patients can be prone to sunburn
Prominent architects create these bright, airy spaces, ensuring that there are plenty of places for patients and families to enjoy the beauty of the gardens regardless of the weather. The facilities in the garden rooms are all wheelchair accessible, meaning patients can be in control and have the opportunity to help themselves and their visitors to cups of tea and homemade cake without having to rely on someone to do it for them.
Each garden room also has:
• Hot water taps specifically designed to ensure patients can use them safely and independently
• Lockable cupboards
• Automated doors
• Alarms, which are there for patients just in case they need them
• Heating to provide a constant temperature, which is important as patients with spinal injuries often struggle to maintain their own body temperature
• Space for the charity-run group activities, such as art therapy sessions
Each Horatio’s Garden is maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers, who are led by a Head Gardener. They nurture the garden, offer patients and their loved ones endless amounts of tea and homemade cake and support the therapeutic activities run by the charity on a weekly basis.
Everything in Horatio’s Garden is of exceptional quality, meaning that it costs in the region of £60,000 a year to maintain each of our gardens.
• The salary of the Head Gardener & Horticultural Therapist
• The salary of the Administration Assistant
• Ongoing necessities of garden maintenance, such as plants and compost
• Materials required for the charity-run therapeutic activities
• Refreshments for the garden room
Horatio’s Garden firmly believe that gardens, gardening and the natural world as a whole hold enormously positive benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. For people with spinal cord injuries, taking part in therapeutic gardening activities and spending time amongst nature is even more vital to their physical and mental wellbeing.
Various studies have found a positive correlation between people’s health and having access to green spaces. For example, Roe et al (2013) found that having access to natural spaces results in low salivary cortisol levels (a common stress marker), which in turn helps to reduce blood pressure.
As more and more research has been conducted regarding the importance of outdoor spaces for individual health, Horatio’s Garden has found itself at the heart of a growing conversation that we as a charity are keen to contribute to. From researching and producing our annual Impact Report, to promoting the essentiality of the great outdoors on social media, we will always be advocates for green spaces and all they have to offer.
The charity’s Head Gardeners and Horticultural Therapists run regular garden therapy sessions, which are assisted by volunteers and run in collaboration with the spinal centres’ Occupational Therapy teams.
All the activities are designed to complement the clinical care provided by NHS staff and support patients’ physical and mental wellbeing. Patients can join in with the charity’s group gardening workshops, whilst they can also set themselves specific therapeutic and rehabilitative goals in one-to-one sessions.
Garden therapy is all about maximizing people’s social, cognitive, physical and psychological functioning to enhance general health and wellness.
Furthermore, equipped with new skills, many patients return home with a new or renewed passion for gardening, meaning they can continue to benefit from and enjoy tending to their plants beyond Horatio’s Garden.
Weather-permitting, the sessions are run outside and engage patients in all aspects of plant cultivation using specialist tools. Nothing is left to waste either, as we eat, reuse and sell our produce, which enhances patients’ feelings of purpose and achievement.
“I really enjoy garden therapy. It’s lovely to just feel my hands in the soil.”
Garden therapy sessions take place in every Horatio’s Garden and offer patients the chance to improve on, or learn new gardening skills.
Activities range from watering and pruning the garden, to sowing seeds and learning more about how to care for plants. Some activities are also specifically designed to support patients with reduced hand function, for example creating hanging baskets, which help patients to improve their fine motor skills.
The aim is to use the natural world to inspire people and reconnect them with the rhythms of the natural world. The activities organised by the Head Gardeners and Horticultural Therapists often celebrate the seasonality of the garden too, with the annual harvest proving to be a particular highlight, providing a source of fresh food for patients to enjoy whenever they wish.
The afternoons are also inherently social occasions, where patients’ families and friends are welcome to join in too.
Every Horatio’s Garden has bed- and wheelchair-accessible greenhouses that enable patients to grow and cultivate their own herbs, salad leaves, vegetables and flowers. The charity’s volunteers, Head Gardeners and Horticultural Therapists are all there to offer support and horticultural advice should people need it and we often see a great variety of plants being grown.
Similarly, the raised bed planters are designed to be reached from both beds and wheelchairs, meaning patients can continue to nurture their plants one they are outside. Giving people the chance to garden and take care of their own plants frequently helps to improve individuals’ self-esteem, confidence and independence, which in turn has a positive impact on patients’ rehabilitation.
Horatio’s Garden is a place offering patients, their loved ones and NHS staff both tranquillity and community. The gardens themselves are designed to be calming and naturally beautiful, giving people the chance to relax away from the ward.
The wide open spaces mean that patients can also appreciate the sights and sounds of nature in the company of other patients, as well as their family and friends. The sanctuaries give people the chance to speak freely about whatever they wish, whether that be the challenges they’re facing as a result of their injuries, or simply what they’re currently enjoying on Netflix.
Patients and families often share that the gardens help them to briefly forget about their injuries, worries and future uncertainties.
Each Horatio’s Garden has a Head Gardener, Horticultural Therapist and many volunteers, as well as a plethora of different visitors who all work together to enrich the experiences of patients and their loved ones during their time in hospital.
NHS staff can also often be found watering or pruning the garden alongside patients, whilst many also make an effort to hold appointments outside and try to incorporate the garden into individuals’ rehabilitation programmes wherever possible.
Consequently, every Horatio’s Garden has a welcoming atmosphere, which helps patients to feel more at east and to become familiar with the people who are likely to be a part of their lives for many months.
Along with the regular horticultural therapy sessions, patients are also encouraged to explore their creativity in the charity’s weekly art therapy workshops.
Patients often draw inspiration from Horatio’s Garden, regardless of whether they’re accomplished or amateur artists. Those who have always painted or drawn find comfort in the garden, as it allows them to continue to pursue this pleasure throughout their time in hospital.
Equally, many patients often arrive at the spinal centre having never attempted art before and are pleasantly surprised by how much they are able to do. The sessions, which are led by either the charity’s volunteers or professional artists, encourage patients to try new creative techniques and pursuits, whether that be in painting, drawing and crafting, or in reading and writing.
The groups are all about giving patients the chance to explore their own emotions, whilst also offering them to opportunity to form closer personal bonds with other people visiting and spending time in the spinal centre.
The charity is lucky to be supported by a whole host of artists too, who either regularly visit the gardens to hold workshops throughout the year, or who become artists in residence.
Notable sculptors too lend their work to Horatio’s Garden, which prompts spontaneous conversation and creative response.
“I love doing activities out in Horatio’s Garden. There’s such a brilliant atmosphere.”
Our artists in residence spend a varied, but sustained period of time in Horatio’s Garden, visiting on a regular basis to work with patients and to gently encourage them to pursue their own creative endeavours.
This has culminated in some fantastic projects, including Miranda Creswell’s ‘Looking Out Table’ for Horatio’s Garden in Glasgow, which featured artwork produced by both patients and Miranda herself throughout her residency. Visitors to the gardens are always interested in watching and talking to the artists as they work, so even if they don’t feel inclined to paint, they can still enjoy having an interesting, creative conversation.
Once artists find Horatio’s Garden, they often remain involved with the charity for many months or years. Some continue to support us by taking up residencies in each of our gardens, whilst others help by creating original works inspired by Horatio’s Garden to raise funds for charity.
Many of the charity’s volunteers are enthusiastic artists in one form or another, leading various groups for patients and their loved ones to enjoy. Some of these focus around traditional creative pursuits, such as creating artwork or crafts, whilst others offer creative alternatives such as book and poetry clubs.
Whilst the creative mediums of each group may be different, all place a similar emphasis on collaboration and storytelling. Patients frequently work together to express a common narrative, meaning they are encouraged to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings with other people in the garden. This not only has a psychological and emotional benefit, but also often means that patients gradually establish friendships that they can rely on throughout their time in hospital and beyond.
We are also frequently joined by professional artists, musicians, poets and storytellers who volunteer their time to lead groups and often introduce new perspectives and artistic ways of thinking to the communities in the gardens.
The sculptures lent to us by numerous artists are always popular with visitors to the gardens and make for stunning centrepieces once they’re nestled amongst the planting.
Over the years we’ve welcome sculptures and installations from Ben Barrell, Mark Coreth, Kathy Hinde, Alexander Macdonald-Buchanan and many more. As each have their own distinctive style, the sculptures always lend a uniquely dynamic element to the garden.
It’s always interesting to hear people sharing their opinions with each other regarding the exhibitions and we enjoy finding out what different visitors to the garden have gained from the sculptures. We try to ensure that all the pieces displayed reflect a key element of the charity, so the sculptures are often inspired by the natural world.
The outbreak of Coronavirus in 2020 led to us creating a collection of YouTube films that came to be known as our ‘Virtual Arty Afternoons’ series. They were all created by artists associated with the charity, many of whom have previously been artists in residence.
The idea was to create a resource that both current and former patients could continue to access whilst in lockdown, giving them gentle encouragement to keep creating works without in-person support from the artists and volunteers involved with the charity. The sessions were also open to NHS staff and all the charity’s supporters, in the hope that they would give everyone a little natural inspiration.
Similarly, a group of our volunteers established a ‘Virtual Reading, Writing and Poetry Group’ for patients and NHS staff spending time in the four spinal centres which currently have a Horatio’s Garden, as well as their fellow volunteers. The sessions are a lot of fun and have been very much enjoyed throughout lockdown, establishing a sense of camaraderie amongst people scattered across the UK.
With only 11 NHS spinal injury centres in the UK, each one is responsible for patients across a vast catchment area. For example, the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow admits people from across the entirety of Scotland.
As a result, patients’ families and friends often travel many miles to visit their loved ones in hospital.
Horatio’s Garden offers them a warm, welcoming and comfortable place where they can spend time catching up and simply enjoying each other’s company. Patients with children or grandchildren in particular find the garden to be a real lifeline during visits.
Importantly, the gardens and garden rooms are available for loved ones to use whenever they wish, whether they’re with or without the person they’re visiting.
Patients’ families and friends also need support as they face such incredibly difficult times, therefore the gardens also give them a place to quietly think and process how life has changed. The charity’s volunteers and Head Gardeners are always waiting should they need a chat, whilst there’s also the opportunity to speak with other families going through similar experiences.
The seasonal events held by the charity throughout the year give patients and their loved ones something to constantly look forward to and there’s always a kind and gentle buzz of atmosphere to be found in every Horatio’s Garden.
“It’s good to have a place where you can just take some time to think and reflect on everything. Being able to sit and chat to other patients and families in the garden is a real comfort.”
Lots of patients and families establish firm friendships through spending time in Horatio’s Garden. The wide open, communal spaces afforded by the garden and garden room are in direct contrast to the wards, thus giving people a chance to interact without feeling they are disturbing other patients or actively interrupting someone’s visit.
As patients also spend a great deal of time alone and away from family during their time in hospital, they come to rely more and more on the companionship of their fellow patients. As spinal injuries can affect people of all ages, patients often form intergenerational friendships which are a source of unique advice and perspective.
Similarly, patients spending time in the spinal centres will all be at varying stages in their rehabilitation. Horatio’s Garden gives newly injured patients the opportunity to meet others spending time in hospital, many of whom will have already been in hospital for several weeks or months. This gives newly injured patients the option to seek help and support from those who have had more time to adjust to living with a spinal cord injury.
Seasonal holidays can often be a difficult time for patients and families as they face extended stays in hospital. As such, the charity organises a range of events throughout the year that give everyone the opportunity to celebrate together.
In each Horatio’s Garden, Easter parties, bank holiday hog roasts and barbecues, summer weekends and Christmas festivities are all eagerly anticipated events in our annual calendar. As with all the charity’s events, patients and their loved ones have the chance to enjoy live entertainment, meeting new people and lots of delicious food, which offers everyone a well-deserved respite.
Patients and families really appreciate Horatio’s Garden for giving their seasonal visits a relaxed focus and for making them just a little bit special. The gardens and garden rooms are also there for patients and families celebrating birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other special occasions, providing a stunning setting for all kinds of events and milestones.
Live performances are always welcomed by patients and loved ones alike in each Horatio’s Garden and usually consist of concerts by musicians local to each of the gardens. These consistently provide the perfect soundtrack to the family events the charity organise, usually featuring original jazz or acoustic music well-suited to a sunny afternoon amongst nature!
We have also welcomed performative storytellers to the gardens, with one performance in particular featuring acrobats in Horatio’s Garden Salisbury. Some of these performances are organised in collaboration with teams from other NHS charities and its always a pleasure to be able to work together for the benefit of visitors to the garden.
It may seem like a simple thing, but patients, families and friends always show a deep appreciation for being able to indulge in a cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake together in the garden and garden rooms.
For patients, having somewhere where they feel confident and safe enough to make help themselves and their loved ones to a warm beverage and a sweet treat is vital for their mental recovery. Not only does it mean they can feel as though they’re spending time with family and friends beyond the hospital, it also helps to prepare them for situations they are likely to face once they have left the spinal centre.
Lots of patients also appreciate the fact that the food available in Horatio’s Garden is fresh and homemade, which often serves as a heart-warming reminder of favourite recipes and dishes they will once again eat upon returning home.