An ambitious project has been launched to create a garden for patients at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast.
With wheelchair-accessible gardening areas, places for children to play, a water feature and sheltered pods, the garden will be a haven for patients undergoing long-term rehabilitation following life-changing injuries.
It is being created by the charity Horatio’s Garden, which specialises in gardens in hospital settings for spinal injury patients. It will be the first in Northern Ireland and the seventh in the UK.
Patients and staff at the hospital have been involved in the design process, giving input on what they would find most useful in an outdoor space.
Will Doggart (31), from east Belfast, is a former Musgrave patient. He was invited to help design Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland, drawing on his experiences and feedback from current patients.
“Most spinal rehab patients are in hospital for months. I was at Musgrave for seven months myself,” he explains.
“You’re in a hospital setting, in close proximity with other patients, and it can be very claustrophobic.
“You end up having private conversations with your family within earshot of the other patients in beds nearby, and you don’t get any fresh air. I went nearly half a year without any natural vitamin D.
“Horatio’s Garden will change all that. There’s going to be a barbecue area, a recreation area and places to sit when family and friends come to visit.
“There will be raised beds and sheltered gardening areas so patients in wheelchairs can do some gardening, which is great for rehabilitation and has mental health benefits too.”
Every part of the garden has been designed with the hospital’s patients in mind.
Resin paving will be smooth and perfectly level to enable hospital beds to be wheeled into every corner of the sanctuary, as well as making access easy for wheelchair users.
The recreation area will provide space for patients practising getting to grips with using a wheelchair.
A large greenhouse will be filled with wheelchair-height shelving and planters, as well as a specially designed kitchen for patients to use independently and safely.
Alarm systems will be linked to hospital wards for patient emergencies — with automatic doors and lighting.
Will became paralysed from the chest down after breaking his neck in three places in an accident while holidaying with friends in Majorca after finishing his A-levels 12 years ago.
He has since played for Ireland in wheelchair rugby and travelled to Australia in 2019 to take part in the Wheelchair Rugby World Cup.
He has also worked as a disability officer and been involved in peer support at Musgrave.
He and his wife Becky (29) have an 18-month-old daughter, Florence, and he says his family helped inspire his ideas for the garden.
“I was still a teenager when I was in Musgrave, but I can’t imagine what it would be like for families with small children to be visiting someone in hospital every day,” he explains.
“The Horatio’s Garden will include space for patients to play with their children, with interactive things like wee tunnels they can shout into.
“Warmth is another big thing for patients with spinal injuries because it becomes harder to regulate your body temperature, so there’s sheltered and heated areas where people can sit.
“You have to remember that people might be getting visitors at seven o’clock at night, so there’s lighting and warm pods, which make it a really peaceful place to be.”
The designs were unveiled at an event at the hospital last week. Building work is expected to begin later this year.
According to the charity, research shows that having access to nature and green spaces significantly improves the mental health and physical rehabilitation of spinal cord injury patients.
Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland is intended to be a home away from home, offering patients, their families and hospital staff a place to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature all year.
The garden will wrap around the spinal centre, which gives patients and staff views out onto it from the wards. All patients will have direct access to the garden from their ward.
A warm garden room will be the hub, and it will be the first Horatio’s Garden to feature a dedicated boccia court in a social area with parasols and sensory planting.
A woodland path will enable patients to connect with nature and wildlife, and other areas have been designed for privacy.
It is also being designed with a view to hosting creative workshops, live music and seasonal events for patients and their families.
Horatio’s Garden Northern Ireland has been designed by eight-time RHS Chelsea gold medallist Andy Sturgeon.
He says: “As a garden designer, it’s very unusual to get an opportunity to have such a positive and fundamental impact on people’s lives. This garden, I feel, will make a real difference.”
The charity hopes the garden will be open to patients by summer next year.
Dr Suzanne Maguire, a consultant in rehabilitation at Musgrave, says: “It’s my hope that having a Horatio’s Garden at the spinal unit will transform the lives of patients during their time in rehabilitation.
“The presence of a garden will allow people to escape the clinical environment and experience the happiness and freedom brought about by plants and flowers.”
Horatio’s Garden is a charity dedicated to providing gardens at spinal injury units.
It was launched because spinal injuries are traumatic, life-changing events, and patients often spend many months in hospital with little or no access to the outside world.
The charity says Covid has exacerbated this further, with additional restrictions on visitors and an increasing need to spend time meeting people outdoors.
- For more information, visit www.horatiosgarden.org.uk/horatios-garden-northern-ireland