Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville

The Garden Gate was open wide for the new Horatio’s Garden at the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital Horatio’s Garden

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Horatio’s Garden is one of the beneficiary charities of The National Garden Scheme, and several of us were privileged to be able, at the official opening last Sunday, to mingle amongst the amazing patients and all the wonderful people involved in the garden’s creation.

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We followed the signs through the hospital corridors and out into the new garden bathed in the afternoon sunshine. Inpatients can be here in the spinal unit for a seriously long time often confined to beds and wheelchairs, so a beautiful outdoor space is of huge benefit. The gradients and surfaces have to be gentle and ultra smooth.   A little bunting added to the gaiety of this great occasion.

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Just as a reminder, I was here back on a snowy day in December, this being the final garden in my Ninety Garden Challenge Stoke Mandeville, Horatio’s Garden. (90).

On the spot where Joe Swift explained his designs to Olivia Chapple, the Founder and Chair of Trustees it was hard for me to imagine how this would look…

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…now it has been transformed into a delightful space where two smiling volunteers welcomed us in.

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What a cold miserable building site it was then, diggers removed 2,500 tons of earth…

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…now it looks as if the garden has always been here.

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Part of the garden stretches along a covered walkway which obtrusively dominated the site and where visitors and patients enter the main hospital from the car park…

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now you are blissfully unaware of the busy flow of hospital life as a simple wooden fence gives privacy, and the border and stone wall give all year round interest.

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Right now it is the asters that provide a splash of colour;

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and the elegant seed heads of the miscanthus provide texture as they sway gently in the breeze.

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The team of workers who constructed the garden ranged in number from 5 to 15 each day, and have now been replaced by some 48 volunteers who work under the guidance of head gardener Jacqui Martin-Lof. At no wish of offending the many head gardeners I have met, she surely is the most elegant.

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I am reminded that back in December the only feature I could just make out under the blanket of snow was the shape of the pond…

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…today it is a delightful place to sit, reflect and listen to the soothing sound of flowing water.

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On one side of the pond is a curved wall with an artful window opening.

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Mary Berry, who has opened her garden in Buckinghamshire for over 20 years and is President of the NGS came today to open Horatio’s Garden.

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Olivia Chapple, Mary Berry and George Plumptre

Speeches were made, and Olivia Chapple who spoke passionately and without a single note, engagingly gave thanks to the many, many people involved. We all felt such huge admiration for an amazing lady who is the driving force behind this dynamic charity.

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Swifty told us that if it had not been for Olivia’s determination the unsightly hospital generator would have unfortunately remained as the centre piece of the garden.

We were then entertained by Magnus Chapple who sang a song he had composed. There were plenty of places to sit and even the smooth bonded resin was comfortable enough for some.

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Mary Berry cut the ribbon and declared the garden officially open.

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With a big green knife she also cut the cake which was then taken round by cheerful volunteers.

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Tea flowed from the garden room, a delightful wooden and glass building where patients and families will be able to enjoy the space and light without feeling they are in hospital.

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A young gingko biloba already past the height of the roof is determined to reach that blue sky.

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Down on the ground in the flower beds there is a healthy selection of herbs and the waft of mint is prolific today.

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This lovely guy picks a sprig of rosemary; he says it is so much better than the air freshner used on the ward.

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Access for wheelchairs is usually so limiting but here they are the norm and can be wheeled effortlessly straight out from ward to garden,

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where there is plenty of room for a trio to meet.

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Wheelchairs come in all shapes and sizes, upright, gyrating and well you could say, almost dancing.

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Three great designers enjoy a moment together, Swifty sporting the dahlia ‘Horatio’ pinned to his lapel, is joined by Cleve West who designed the first Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital, and James Alexander-Sinclair who designed the subsequent Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Unit in Glasgow.

Earlier I had caught sight of Bunny Guinness, but she must have hurried away to complete her designs for the next Horatio’s Garden that she is creating at Oswestry.

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Every garden needs a good greenhouse and Horatio’s Garden in no exception.

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Accessible and specially equipped, it will be used as part of the therapy programme,

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where plants for the garden will be propagated as well as herbs, salads and fruits which the patients can enjoy themselves.

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I am reminded again of how it looked before (incidentally the turquoise box behind the fencing in the centre is that generator)…

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Ample space for a couple of large hospital beds.  It was delightful to see these patients enjoying the fresh air and the warm sun on their faces.

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We have enjoyed the gaiety of the afternoon and can see that much thought has gone into the design of this garden. Planned to encourage wildlife and provide colour and texture throughout the year, it must be a sanctuary for those patients facing hugely difficult and life-changing times.

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And we must not forget the inspiration behind this extraordinary charity, Horatio Chapple whose short life has given so much and another reason why some of us open our own gardens.

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