Jodie Jones discovers the design behind the first Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury Hospital
The first Horatio’s Garden, designed by Cleve West MSGD in 2012, is at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre at Salisbury Hospital. It is named for 17-year-old Horatio Chapple, who volunteered at the hospital, but died in 2011. In 2015, West won three SGD Awards for the design, while contractor Wycliffe Landscapes won two BALI awards in 2014.
Appropriate hardscaping was crucial. Patients are either in wheelchairs or hospital beds, so routes around the garden had to be wide and easy to navigate. In practice, this meant putting in 2m-wide paths of resin-bonded gravel. “That is not something I would do in any other garden,” says West. “But here it was essential to have a smooth and stable surface. In the planning stage, I got someone to push me around in a wheelchair and I was struck by how vulnerable I felt. Hopefully, the solid paths reduce that anxiety a little.”
Two dry stone walls form another feature. These are built from limestone with hidden lime mortar. In parts, they are topped with limestone coping to double as functional seating, but they also serve a symbolic purpose. “We shaped them like spines, broken by an intersecting path before coming together in a continuous wall – a metaphor for every patient’s recovery journey.”
Soft, ephemeral planting was used to temper the solidly built framework of the garden. “I avoided putting in the sort of high raised beds you get in a lot of ‘disabled’ gardens, which can look awkward. Anyway, I realised that many patients don’t want to actively garden, they just want to occupy a nurturing space.”
The initial plan was to plant low-maintenance shrubs as an inexpensive long-term option, but there was such an enthusiastic band of volunteers (now around 20, lead by head gardener Stephen Hackett) that, in the end, West designed a vibrant perennial scheme that requires a lot of care but amply rewards the effort. “I made it full of life and colour. It’s a bonus that the perennials draw lots of insects, in turn drawing lots of birds. It’s a real celebration of life and the brighter side of gardening.”
The social success of the project further vindicates the decision to go for higher-maintenance planting. “It means that there is always someone in the garden to talk to. It’s become a vital part of the garden in terms of improving a patient’s mood or outlook.”
This garden is its own world, perhaps more than most. The hospital buildings are functional but unattractive, and one side of the garden borders a large car park, so West set out to enclose the space with planting, including a native wildlife hedge and a beech hedge gifted by Brewin Dolphin from the Chelsea garden he created for them in 2012. The only view of note is a sightline to the Clarendon Way, an ancient route from Salisbury to Winchester, and from a wheelchair this is all you can see above the hedge.
At the heart of the garden is a wide open area which is often used for fund-raising events or group activities, but there are also a series of private spaces. “When you are on a ward for months at a time, it is good to have somewhere you can go to talk without being overheard, or just be by yourself with the birds and the flowers.”
Horatio’s mother Olivia is committed to bringing therapeutic gardens to all 11 spinal injury centres around the UK. James Alexander-Sinclair MSGD has now created a second garden in Glasgow; Joe Swift MSGD is working on one at Stoke Mandeville Hospital; and there are plans for gardens in London, Sheffield and Middlesbrough.