As an avid gardener, I listened very carefully when I heard that Headley Court, the UK's armed forces' dedicated rehabilitation centre, is offering gardening therapy to their patients — servicemen and women — who are trying to heal wounds gained in combat and to rejoin their units as quickly as possible, albeit sometimes in a different role.
Headley Court is situated close to Epsom and is set in 85 acres of magnificent landscaped gardens adjacent to the National Trust parkland.
Many of the young soldiers at Headley Court are coming to terms with severe physical injuries, whilst others are recovering from the mental trauma of the battlefield. Most are still highly motivated and feel frustrated about being unable to do the job for which they trained so hard and having to leave their comrades behind on the frontline.
The staff at Headley Court endeavour to empathise with each soldier and to focus their treatment on getting service personnel fit again for operational duty or, in the case of the severely injured, preparing them for life outside of the armed forces.
Coping with disability
This made me think about those soldiers who may have lost a limb, and will never be on active service again. They will have a huge adjustment to make in their personal lives and a new career to carve out as best they can.
Those of us who have to move jobs, for whatever reason, will certainly appreciate how challenging a change of job can be. But how much more difficult must it be to come to terms with a serious psychological or physiological problem, at the same time.
Soldiers are never trained to deal with this type of personal loss, but only how to manage situations in a military environment, where danger is endemic. Therefore, when the reality of personal injury hits a soldier, particularly when that injury is permanent, the ensuing shock, denial and anger that may follow is invariably a major challenge.
For those who will never return to their chosen profession of being a soldier, it will be a time of serious reassessment, valuing what they still actually have in terms of personal strengths and physical assets, and turning over a page in their individual book of life.
For soldiers who have committed their lives to the armed forces, it may be a challenge.
I know that the Paralympic Games will be run alongside the Olympics, in 2012, and will offer athletes with physical disabilities the opportunity to compete and strive for equal treatment in the highly competitive arena of sport. For the soldier who is now an amputee, who has had to learn how to walk again with a prosthetic limb, this is exactly the kind of challenge they will need, both mentally and physically, to support their rehabilitation.
When I read of Headley Court, I wonder how and where does gardening fit in with other therapies. I believe that to plant a seed and see it grow is not only highly satisfying but it also gives a sense of achievement and purpose. Enjoying the beauty of a flower, a shrub or a tree can help to relieve so much stress in life.
Being able to focus on something else, other than their injuries, can not only aid soldiers' recovery but also take them into another world of peace and tranquillity. A world of nature in which there is always life and renewal.
I am very fortunate to have a garden where I can see a majestic willow tree. Large conifers that reach up to heights of over 20 metres give me privacy and quiet. During spring and summer, I spend many hours planting, watering and watching new life grow as seedlings become plants. There is nothing more perfect for me on a sunny day than to listen to my favourite music in the background and work in my garden.
Very often, being close to nature in a garden may well help injured soldiers achieve a new sense of purpose and appreciate what they still have, instead of what they have lost, giving them that most valuable of personal assets — hope.
- Physical or mental injury is challenging
- Mother Nature can serve to relieve stress
- Hope is our most valuable personal asset