Stoke Mandeville, Horatio’s Garden. (90)

For The Ninetieth garden I was invited to see a very special garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

The day of the visit, last Monday the sky was a dull grey and there had been heavy snow the previous day.


The Hospital is famous for its National Spinal Injuries Centre, one of the largest specialist spinal units in the world. Just outside the entrance is this life size (5’6″/1.70m) statue by Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttman. Affectionately known as “Poppa”  he was the global founder of successful spinal cord injury treatment. The government asked him in 1948 to set up the specialist spinal ward which then expanded into this amazing centre. He is also father of the Paralympic Games.


The garden has not actually been created yet, but the intention is to transform this a rather bland paved area adjoining the Spinal Care Wards into a garden; and so bringing a touch of nature and beauty to patients and their families in an accessible oasis of calm attached but away from the clinical environment. This will be Horatio’s Garden.

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Same site but a rather different scene that greeted us last Monday!


Horatio was a young man who was a volunteer in his school holidays at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre, Salisbury. He and his father, a spinal surgeon at Salisbury Hospital came up with the idea for a garden and Horatio organised a questionnaire to find out what the patients wanted. Horatio was never to see the garden which was created in his memory after he was so tragically killed at the age of 17 by a polar bear in northern Norway.


Horatio’s Gardens have been completed in Salisbury and Glasgow, and now Stoke Mandeville is the latest creation. The ‘L’ shaped site is situated in the middle of this busy hospital.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 08.30.12.jpg Garden designer, RHS Gold Medallist and great gardening guru Joe Swift was on hand to explain his design.

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This is the projection of his perceived plan:

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Excavation work started back in August when Sir Robert McAlpine generously supported the removal of 1,800 tonnes of spoil. The tyre marks show the route of the trucks and lorries that exited the site through the public car park.


The site was levelled and is being prepared for the permeable bonded resin paving to be laid, providing a smooth surface and making an easy transition from ward to garden for the patients in beds and wheelchairs.  It is not always easy when you first have to encounter being in a wheelchair and this outdoor area will assist in gaining confidence.

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Today a trench was being dug through the heavy clay for the drainage.

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Of course no site comes without its problems. First the lengthy business of moving the huge NHS power generator; tucked around the corner it is now sporting a smart new turquoise colour which helps it blend in with the building behind.

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It is difficult to imagine but this will be the water feature,


Computer graphics show an elegant raised pool at a height suitable for wheelchairs. I’m afraid you will just have to imagine the sound of the gentle flow of running water.

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Perhaps the red kite soaring above was taking advantage of a bird’s-eye view.


The view from above shows the flow of the design with curves providing intimate bays, a place for those private moments never realised whilst on a ward. Spinal injury patients often need to endure a long stay in hospital.

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This unremarkable area was where the generator once stood alongside the brick wall;


it will soon to be the garden room. Being built off-site, it is expected to be installed in the New Year. Light and airy,  here patients will be able to enjoy the garden even when the weather is inclement. Kitchen facilities will enable them to make a cup of tea and perhaps share lunch with visitors.  Those who wish to, will also be able to participate in the volunteer-led activities that the Horatio’s Garden charity organises.

Outside the garden room a communal space will be used for informal social gatherings of patients perhaps for lunches or even live music.

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Nearby an accessible spacious greenhouse will be built. Specially equipped for patients to help with the gardening, it will be used to propagate plants for the garden and give an opportunity for patients to get involved with working with the head gardener and volunteers or just come and chat and watch. Regular garden therapy groups will use the greenhouse and the raised beds, for therapeutic activities. Herbs, salad leaves and fruit will be grown for patients to pick and enjoy.

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Horatio loved apples and so they will be well represented amongst the variety of trees that will be planted throughout the garden.

Further round the corner is the paediatric ward where the proposed garden will be used by children with spinal cord injuries giving them and their families a beautiful natural space away from the difficulties of hospital life.


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The gentle driving force behind Horatio’s vision is Dr Olivia Chapple, Horatio’s mum. Relinquishing her role as a General Practitioner she now volunteers full time for the charity not only as Chair of the Trustees but also as a porter pushing patients in their beds out into the gardens. Joe is enthusiastic about the garden and Olivia is eternally grateful for all the support her vibrant charity receives. I left Joe in a site meeting and Olivia interviewing for the important role of Head Gardener.

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Every charity needs support, and there are plans for gardens at Oswestry and London. Giving is so easy…


The National Garden Scheme has donated £130,000 to this project. It is an inspirational concept and with such a brilliant and sympathetic design it cannot help but bring a sense of well-being to the many spinal unit patients.

What a great finish to my Ninety and I do so look forward to reporting on its completion in 2018.

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29 thoughts on “Stoke Mandeville, Horatio’s Garden. (90)

  1. Well done Julia, what a project, and not just Horatio’s garden! What are you going to do in 2018?

    Hope you have a good Christmas if we don’t see you before.

    Love Georgie


  2. Phenomenal achievement Julia and a great ‘garden’ to finish on. However beautiful most of these gardens have been (and therefore a pleasure to visit) I know it has been a lot of work. Wonderful photos too and you’ve bought the gardens to life for us with your writing. Thank you.


  3. What an inspirational end to an inspirational 90th season! How remarkable to have fitted in 90 garden visits into your already incredibly busy year, Julia – and thank you so much for giving so much pleasure to us all with such a range of gardens and descriptions. And all best wishes to the build of Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville, its future users and the comfort and reassurance it will bring…and huge congratulations to Horatio’s completely amazing family.


  4. Well, what a terrific finish to your ninety!
    We are going to miss your garden visits and blogs, can’t you keep going and do another year?!


  5. Congratulations Julia on an amazing achievement visiting 90 gardens in one year.
    You have brought the gardens alive throughout the year and this final garden is an inspiration.


  6. Julia you deserve a medal! What a delight your blog has been. I hope you will take a few days off now to recover and to reflect on how much pleasure you have given with your very personal, but positive take on ninety beautiful NGS gardens


  7. How clever of you to save the very best for the last. This is so well documented and fascinating to see the site in progress. The permeable bonded resin sounds perfect… does it look like gravel? Good luck to all involved and thanks for the donation link. I am sure this blog will be very effective and, of course, congrats on your big yellow 90th… which, I’m sure, actually won’t be the last.


  8. A really interesting garden to finish with. Well done Julia for completing your 90. Lots of inspiring gardens to add to my visiting wish list.


  9. Well done, Julia, on achieving your goal of visiting 90 gardens in the anniversary year of the NGS. And leaving the best to last – the wonderful project at Stoke Mandeville. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and will miss it, although I detect a hint that you may well continue. Please do.


  10. Congratulations Julia, on completing your challenge. It has been lovely to read your comments about the various gardens you have visited, you really should write a book. Sally


  11. Fantastic end to a wonderful year of visits, gardens, words and pictures. Thank you for creating something beautiful.
    Jude at Powys NGS
    PS you’re welcome over the border in Wales any time! X


  12. Congratulations Julia, what an achievement! I know it has taken an enourmous amount of effort but you have brought so much pleasure with your wonderful garden descriptions, I can’t wait to visit some of them next year, and what a finish with Horatio’s latest garden in the making. Well done.


  13. So enjoyed reading your blog. So many beautiful and varied gardens. Congratulations. Brilliant photos and brilliant writing – now for the book.
    Happy Christmas
    Love from Rosie


  14. A wonderful look into gardens known and unknown, marvellous photos and knowledgeable comments. A joy each time, well done. As for the last one, if Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit is like it used to be ask the designer to avoid all yellow shrubs and flowers! Yellow sheets, yellow walls, yellow towels, even the first meal Helen was offered was smoked haddock…


  15. Brilliant Julia… just brilliant. Congratulations on completing your personal project and for promoting the National Garden Scheme so beautifully in the process. I echo everyone else’s lovely comments – thank you for sharing the 90 visits with us Your descriptions, insights, humour and photos have brought lots of joy all through 2017. I notice you are teasing us with comments like …’there may be more’ & ‘watch this space ‘. We hope so ….. whether in blog or book? ……go girl!


  16. Congratulations. We have really enjoyed your blogs throughout the year. A real inspiration for the NGS. Yvonne and David Leonard. Mildenhall. Suffolk Team.

    Sent from my iPad



  17. Well done. Your blogs are a triumph. Please continue and then write a book.                                                    John


  18. Your blog has been a triumph Julia and what an interesting 90th garden! Do please keep writing about your garden visiting in 2018.
    Well done!


  19. Wow 90. It has been a delight to follow you beyond the open garden gates with your enchanting descriptions, all your research & garden knowledge and wonderful photographs. Very well done and thank you for all the pleasure you have given us. Hope you will blog again when Horatio’s Garden is finished. . . . . More gardens in 2018 please.


  20. Pingback: Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville | The Garden Gate is Open

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