City hospital garden is oasis of calm through gruelling treatment

IT is a garden that throughout lockdown became even more a sanctuary for those who use it than ever before.

Despite being in the heart of the city and close to the M8, Horatio’s Garden is an oasis of calm and a quiet place for patients at the National Spinal Unit, based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, to spend time in.

Patients from all over Scotland come to the unit for treatment such as physiotherapy or to help recovery and recuperation from injuries and operations and can spend time away from home and their families.

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Lockdown proved even harder when visitors were not allowed which is when the garden and horticultural therapy became even more important to patients’ wellbeing and recovery.

Pictured at Horatio’s Garden at the Queen Elizabeth national spinal injury unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow are, from left – Margaret Mowat, president of Soroptimist International Glasgow City, Caroline Norwood (immediate past

Run by charity Horatio’s Garden, it has been in full bloom in the summer months with bursts of colour and tended by head gardener and horticultural therapist Sallie Sillars.

The Glasgow garden, which is approaching its fifth anniversary, is one of many in hospital grounds funded by the charity set up in memory of Horatio Chapple. The 17-year-old was on a science trip with The British Exploring Society to Svalbard when he was killed when a polar bear attacked his camp. He acted with unfaltering courage and lost his life yet bided time for his friends to escape.

It is only in recent weeks that volunteers have been allowed back to help as Ms Sillars single-handedly held the fort during lockdown.

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And a new addition taking pride of place is a donation of a Scots pine tree from the Glasgow City branch of Soroptimists International, a volunteer movement which works together to help change the lives of women and girls.

They made the donation as part of a worldwide tree planting initiative to mark the organisation’s centenary year. The movement began in California in 1921 and their first project was to ‘Save the Redwoods’ – the great ancient trees which were being felled.

This week volunteers had the chance to visit the garden and see the tree which has a commanding place in the garden.

Sallie Sillars, head gardener and horticultural therapist at Horatios Garden. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Sallie Sillars, head gardener and horticultural therapist at Horatio’s Garden. Photograph by Colin Mearns.

Margaret Mowat, president of the Glasgow City branch, said: “We were delighted to be able to come and see the tree and it is all about going back to the origins of the organisation 100 years ago.

“It was the founding members who fought to save redwood trees native to California when they were under threat and this year our clubs all over the world have been involved in planting trees. Horatio’s Garden was a place which some of our members had a connection and we couldn’t have picked a better place.

“Fundraising has been limited with the pandemic and lockdown, but our members gave donations for the tree. I think they will be very pleased.

“Our organisation began with wanting to save trees which were native to California and I think it is very appropriate that Horatio’s Garden has chosen a Scots pine which is native to our country.”

Caroline Norwood, immediate past president of the Glasgow branch, knows only too well what it means to have the grounds to look out on while undergoing crucial treatment.

Mrs Norwood: “I know first-hand just how important it is to be able to look out on to the garden and what the surroundings mean to patients. I had fallen but it wasn’t until a few months later that I was x-rayed and I was told the extent of the damage.

“Doctors told me I was very lucky and with the type of injury I had it was lucky to be walking. I had broken the sixth and seventh vertebrae in my spine, but wasn’t aware. When it was discovered, I was soon in the unit for treatment and looking out on to the garden was very important.”

Even before Mrs Norwood was a patient at the unit project coordinator Pat Campbell had known about the work of the unit and the garden through health professionals and when she suggested the idea of making a donation to members they were happy to help.

For Ms Sillars it has been a long 18 months as head gardener, but they have been able to bring back volunteers to help.

“It has been a difficult time as the patients hadn’t been allowed visitors so the horticultural therapy part of my role became even more important,” said Ms Sillar. “The garden became even more crucial to patients in lockdown and provided that distraction from their treatment. They can sit in the garden, read, chat to people and friendships form. It is also gives them a that time away from the ward which can be busy places.

“When patients are almost ready to go home some of them get more involved and almost become patient volunteers. We will be marking our fifth anniversary next month and we hope to be able to offer more projects and look holding workshops depending what restrictions are in place at the time.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992