Horatio’s Garden is a national charity that creates and cares for beautiful, accessible and therapeutic gardens at NHS spinal injury centres. Rathbones is proud to help sponsor these inspiring projects, which grew out of the vision of one remarkable teenager.
Angus Kerr, Investment Director, Rathbones
Horatio Chapple was a schoolboy with a passion for people, nature and adventure. The son of a surgeon and a GP, he dreamed of a career in medicine and was known to friends as “doctor in waiting”.
In 2011, aged 17, he devoted his summer holiday to serving as a volunteer at Salisbury District Hospital’s Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre. Having spent several weeks helping to provide care, he suggested building a garden for patients — somewhere peaceful and relaxing for them to spend time during their often lengthy stays.
Encouraged by his father, spinal surgeon David Chapple, Horatio compiled a questionnaire to get feedback on his idea. It revealed that patients were massively in favour of his proposal. He even took the chairman of the NHS Foundation Trust to a first-floor window of the unit to show him a plot he had earmarked for the project.
Today, with its summerhouse, tall shrubs and spine-shaped limestone walls, what is known as Horatio’s Garden is a stunning realisation of the youngster’s formative vision. It also stands as a tribute to his memory.
Horatio died weeks after outlining his plan. He was killed by a polar bear while taking part in an expedition on the Norwegian Svalbard Islands, where the animal managed to enter camp after a perimeter tripwire alarm failed to activate.
The garden grew out of the tragedy. An appeal launched shortly after Horatio’s death raised tens of thousands of pounds within weeks, and the Horatio’s Garden charity was born.
Cleve West, a multiple Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) award winner, was commissioned to transform the Salisbury site. He knew it well, as a close friend had been a patient at the centre.
West used Horatio’s questionnaire as his starting point and also sought the views of nurses, therapists, doctors and managers. He even asked to be taken around the plot in a hospital bed and a wheelchair so he could appreciate what patients would see. He worked on his design while listening to Horatio’s favourite music and included several references to the teenager, such as water features to reflect his love of swimming and an apple-tree archway to signify his fondness for apple crumble.
As the garden gradually took shape, plants and other elements were chosen both for their aesthetic qualities and for their sensory contributions: long grasses to catch the wind, herbs to smell and taste, a babbling brook — all intended, as West explained, to ensure that “the benefits of nature can be felt”. Appropriately, a variety of goat’s beard known as Aruncus Horatio was among the perennials selected to decorate the borders.
The garden opened in September 2012, duly earning West three Society of Garden Designers awards. It was such a success with patients and visitors that the idea was extended to other spinal injury centres around the UK. There are now Horatio’s Gardens at Glasgow’s Scottish National Spinal Unit and the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury.
James Alexander-Sinclair, a member of the Council of the RHS, designed the former. He has created spectacular gardens all over the world but has insisted: “Horatio’s Garden in Glasgow is the most meaningful garden I have ever designed.” Gardeners' World presenter Joe Swift has described overseeing the Stoke Mandeville project as “an honour”.
Horatio’s Gardens are also being built at the Midland Centre for Spinal Injuries in Oswestry and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, London. Gardeners’ Question Time host Bunny Guinness and Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Tom Stuart-Smith are the latest celebrated designers to offer their services.
Rathbones is delighted to have helped Horatio’s Garden grow as a national charity. We are proud to support continuing efforts to create and care for these beautiful and highly accessible gardens, which serve both as sanctuaries for patients and as testament to the kindness and courage of the young man who first envisaged them.
As Horatio’s mother, Olivia Chapple, said in a Daily Telegraph interview to mark the fourth anniversary of her son’s death: “I know that in life he was going to have a profound effect on a lot of people. This way he can still do that — his life has a purpose beyond the people who knew him.”