Tedworth House is an impressive nineteenth century mansion that sits within hundreds of acres of parkland in Wiltshire. It became a Help for Heroes recovery centre in 2011, providing support to British Servicemen and women who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty, and we were delighted when they got in touch recently, inviting us to take a look around the gardens, where they provide a range of outdoor activities to assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of their beneficiaries.
While the torrential rain did deter us from a more leisurely exploration of the grounds, we did get a good look at the centre’s vegetable garden and were able to take cover in the greenhouse, where we caught up with Horticultural Therapist, Lucy Thorpe.
‘I run the horticultural activities,’ she explained, ‘where beneficiaries come each week to learn gardening skills with a view to them taking those skills home and benefitting their recovery journey.’
Although these practical skills are certainly important, it’s often the other, less visible benefits that can really make a difference and in some cases change lives. We heard how beneficiaries arrive at Tedworth House, often bearing the scars of unimaginable trauma, but the simple act of gardening helps them relax, improves their self-esteem, boosts their social interaction and gives them hope. Studies have shown how contact with nature through gardening can benefit our physical and mental wellbeing, and nowhere is this more apparent than at Tedworth House.
As well as offering taster sessions and a weekly gardening club, Lucy runs a City & Guilds course for those who are more serious in their gardening aspirations. This can be a springboard to a whole new future, as was the case with veteran Rachel Willis who was signed off from the army due to a back injury, and subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia. Quiet and withdrawn when she joined the weekly gardening club at Tedworth House two years ago, she soon discovered a life-changing passion for horticulture. After completing the centre’s City and Guilds course, she progressed to the RHS course at nearby Sparsholt College where she’s soon to sit her final exams. As well as volunteering at Heale Gardens, she now, also, has paid employment as a gardener.
‘It ignites a passion in me,’ she said, bubbling over with enthusiasm, ‘it’s something I feel comfortable doing, and I can forget my worries and my woes and my pains whilst I’m at it.’
As if Rachel’s achievements over the past two years were not impressive enough, she’s about to add something to her résumé that many gardeners would give their eyeteeth for: she’s helping create a garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Having maintained close links with Sparsholt College, Help for Heroes were thrilled when the college approached them with the idea of collaborating on a show garden for Chelsea. Inspired by conversations with those recovering at Tedworth House, the students have worked alongside the veterans to produce The Force for Good Garden, which aims to demonstrate how horticulture has given these individuals a second chance at life and how everyone can benefit from gardening.
As the rain stopped and the sun began to break through the clouds, we headed over to Sparsholt College, where the student and veteran gardeners were busy working together on the project.
Under the guidance of Sparsholt College lecturer and design expert, Chris Bird, the team have designed a multi-sensory garden divided into three sections, with each section representing a step on the road to recovery. The first section, ‘Surviving’, suggests conflict and disorientation, using antagonistic planting and white noise sound effects to depict the inner turmoil of those being supported by Help for Heroes before they enter their recovery programme. The second section, ‘Stability’, focuses on crop production, portraying the horticultural activities undertaken by beneficiaries at the four recovery centres nationwide. The third section, ‘Support’, will depict a quintessential English garden complete with beehive, to represent the moment when the individuals feel strong enough to become an active member of the their community once more, able to make a positive impact on society. A symphonic piece of music, composed especially for Help for Heroes, will complete the journey, adding a sense of peace, calm and relaxation to the garden.
We had an amazing day meeting the team, hearing their stories and seeing the garden build in its infancy. The Force For Good promises to be a moving and inspiring work, that’s well worth a visit if you’re lucky enough to be attending the Chelsea Flower Show this week. In the meantime, check out our video for a peek behind the scenes of the Help for Heroes and Sparsholt College collaboration, see the garden take shape, and hear the uplifting stories of the creators behind it.