It was the walled garden that did it….
When Anna Baker Cresswell’s beloved Mother was living with Parkinson’s Disease during the last years of her life, Anna gave up her job in London and moved back home to Northumberland to look after her. The walled garden there gave Anna snatched half hours of calm, control and order when the rest of her life had none.
After her Mother died in 2004, Anna decided to start a charity in her memory that would provide horticultural therapy (HT) for veterans in walled gardens. Gardening Leave was the result.
Fast forward to 2018 and Anna is planning to move the HT service she set up in 2013 via the charity HighGround, from Headley Court in Surrey, to the late Duke of Westminster’s magnificent legacy, the Defence National Rehabilitation Centre (DNRC) at Stanford Hall near Loughborough.
Until Gardening Leave, HT hadn’t been used by the military in the UK but Anna knew that it had been used by the US military since Vietnam and with great results.
Anna started working with veterans from Combat Stress using a walled garden in Ayrshire where Scotland’s only National Collection of poppies had once been. Four HT projects later (including one at the Royal Hospital Chelsea), Anna was asked to start a pilot project at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court, where injured serving personnel are referred for their rehabilitation. These are predominantly fit young men for whom injury is not part of the plan.
The challenge was to provide a calm, safe space away from the intensity of the wards and gyms and physiotherapy; a place where, listening to birdsong and engaging in a useful occupation could divert the mind from pain and frustration.
Anna ‘found’ Carol Sales teaching horticulture in a mens’ prison. Carol became HighGround’s first horticultural therapist, enabling HT to be fully integrated into the range of rehab options for the referring Occupational Therapists at Headley Court.
Vegetable growing, cut flowers (one patient even grew the confetti for his wedding) and maintaining the Test Track (the first rehab garden for injured service personnel to test their new prosthetics on gradients and surfaces) keeps Carol’s patients busy and fulfilled. For many, the activities rekindle the hope of a future beyond pain, operations, frustrations, consultant appointments and War Pension appeals.
The Visitors Book contains comments from patients. It makes for difficult reading and has moved many a visitor – it lives in the greenhouse….
What of the future?
The Surgeon General is the Defence Authority for Healthcare in the Defence Medical Services Department. He is fully supportive of HighGround’s HT service but is unable to contribute public funding towards the cost of running the service. With the help of a LIBOR grant from the Chancellor and several very generous grant-making trusts (including the Swire Foundation, Wates Foundation and the Wax Chandlers Trust), Anna is planning to move the HT service to Stanford Hall this summer when Headley Court closes and the patients transfer to the new DNRC.
It’s a huge challenge, and finding Carol’s successor is now under way https://highground-uk.org/join-us/.
Anna says, “I’m very proud that what started as a way to honour the memory of my Mother, herself a Nightingale Nurse and much better gardener than I’ll ever be, has become a service which continues to improve the lives of servicemen and women. They have done their bit and now we can show them how gardens and gardening can do their bit too.”
Patients at Headley Court
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