NI Spinal injuries patient Paul Gannon on the benefits of the new therapeutic Horatio's Garden at Musgrave Park Hospital

Head gardener Matthew Lee, left, and Paul Gannon enjoying a horticultural therapy workshop at Horatio's Garden, Musgrave Park HospitalHead gardener Matthew Lee, left, and Paul Gannon enjoying a horticultural therapy workshop at Horatio's Garden, Musgrave Park Hospital
Head gardener Matthew Lee, left, and Paul Gannon enjoying a horticultural therapy workshop at Horatio's Garden, Musgrave Park Hospital
A special therapeutic garden of benefit to patients with spinal injuries no matter where they live in Northern Ireland is to officially open tomorrow (Saturday, June 15) at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast.

Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland was created by nine times RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist, Andy Sturgeon. His modern designs combine traditional materials and contemporary styling, known for their timeless, architectural qualities, innovative planting and sculptural characteristics.

It was completed at Christmas last year providing a sanctuary outside hospital wards and clinical settings.

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Special features include a first dedicated boccia court; a sport played by Paralympians located in a social area with parasols and sensory planting.

Paul Gannon in Horatio's Garden at Musgrave Park HospitalPaul Gannon in Horatio's Garden at Musgrave Park Hospital
Paul Gannon in Horatio's Garden at Musgrave Park Hospital

It also has a warm garden room with timber cladding and a green roof and garden pods offering shelter, privacy and socialising spaces with a large greenhouse for garden therapy and growing.

The garden, which can also be used by patients staying in the hospital’s Amputee Rehabilitation Unit, is set off by a beautiful water feature. It cost £1.46 million in fundraising to build and costs a further £100,000 a year to maintain.

Paul Gannon, 65, from Belfast is a patient with a spinal injury who has benefited from the garden. In October 2023, the former public sector accountant had been out having dinner with friends when he accidentally fell off a stool aggravating a previous shoulder injury. It led to a spinal cord injury leaving him unable to walk.

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Paul said: “I was meeting with friends around dinner time when I lost my balance getting off the stool.

"I don’t remember much of what happened next, only waking up in the Royal Hospital unable to move.”

After some weeks in the Royal, Paul was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injuries Unit at Musgrave Park to continue his rehabilitation.

Paul said: “At first I nipped out into the garden every now and again, but once I received my power chair, I went out every single day.

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"The garden, and in particular the garden room, gave me a reason to get out of bed. I started getting up early in the morning and took a paper or a book out to it.

"I found it was great escapism, brightened up my day, lifted my mood, and gave me a feel-good factor. It’s better than any pill from the doctor. I call it the ‘Horatio’s Garden pill’.”

Paul added: “The garden is of such a high standard, it’s good enough to live in. If this was an Airbnb, I’d be the first to sign up!”

He added: “My spinal injury means I can’t walk, and I also have reduced feeling and mobility in my right arm and leg. I have suffered financial loss due to being unable to work, and my mental health has been poor at times.”

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Paul said having the opportunity to spend time outside the ward was beneficial for his mental health.

“It was a welcome respite from the clinical environment and the difference between night and day. The garden offers privacy, tranquillity and a sense of revitalisation. It’s a relief from the hospital and a place to chill out.

"The garden allowed me to connect with other patients on the ward, socialise, and enjoy some live music. My days would be a lot emptier without it.”

Paul added: “My advice to anyone going through this journey is to communicate, which is something Horatio’s Garden really encourages and is another great aspect of the design.

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"Getting to know the NHS staff and other patients, but also talking to the Horatio’s Garden team, including head gardener Matthew Lee, and all the volunteers, has been brilliant.”

Dr Cathy Jack, chief executive at Belfast Trust said: “The space will bring immense physical and psychological benefits to our patients, giving them the opportunity to leave the clinical ward environment and enjoy the outdoors during their time in rehabilitation.

"Our dedicated staff will also benefit from the environment and are looking forward to seeing the positive impact it will have on the amazing care they provide to our patients.”

The charity Horatio’s Garden was set up in memory of Horatio Chapple, a schoolboy who wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a doctor. In 2010, he volunteered at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury during his holidays where following talks with patients he came up with the idea to create a garden and devised a questionnaire.

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Horatio’s life was cut short in 2011 when his camp was attacked by a polar bear whilst on an expedition to Svalbard. There followed an outpouring of love, goodwill and donations which led his mother, Dr Olivia Chapple, a GP to establish the charity in his legacy and name.

Paul said: “I’ll always remember having a visit from Dr Olivia Chapple herself. She was a pleasure to talk to. We took a wander around the garden and chatted. It was a lovely reminder to always embrace your situation and engage as much as possible.”

Paul is now adjusting to life back home, but still attends creative workshops and live music performances at Horatio’s Garden, and joins Matthew for horticultural therapy sessions.

“It’s wonderful to know I can still use the garden as an outpatient and I will be able to see it develop and grow. Matthew has been trying to recruit me as a volunteer, and I’m now signed up! The idea of what is yet to come gives me a sense of hope and encourages me to look forward.”

To donate to Horatio’s Garden, visit: horatiosgarden.org.uk/donate/

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