Olivia Chapple

Olivia in the garden

From Tragedy to Transformation

You may have heard of the charity “Horatio’s Garden” but in this podcast you can listen to Horatio’s mother, Olivia, tell her story. This is a story of how a mother’s grief for the loss of her son has resulted in a national charity bringing transformative environments to people living in spinal injuries units across the UK. Olivia had a happy childhood where she was encouraged to follow her own path. After deciding on a career in Medicine she began her training at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, meeting her husband-to-be (who was also training to become a Doctor) in the first week. During that training she observed the impact gardens and the outside had on patients suffering from poor mental health.

Olivia juggled working as a GP in various locations in the UK, and living for a time in Australia, while bringing up 3 boys. When her husband got a permanent job in Salisbury they finally settled down. Then in 2011 tragedy struck. Whilst on a student trip to Svalbard, Olivia’s son, Horatio, lost his life when a polar bear attacked him.  

“In the darkest of times people can find a thread of something to keep them going”

Olivia, supported by friends and family, kept going by developing a legacy for her son. Horatio had been volunteering at Salisbury Hospital, Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre and had been keen to improve the outside space for the patients, most of whom live on the unit for some months whilst receiving treatment. He understood the importance of a relaxing garden, a non-institutional space, for patients’ mental health. 

The garden at Salisbury Spinal Treatment Centre, Horatio’s Garden, is no ordinary garden. It was designed by the Chelsea Flower Show 6 times gold award winner Cleve West, who similarly appreciated the transformative power of gardens especially to those facing life changing injuries and as a result living for months in an institution.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to become the lead for the charity, which now aims to design, build and maintain special gardens at all the 11 Spinal Injuries Centres across the UK. Olivia’s deep understanding of the transformative impact of fantastic outside spaces and the medical understanding behind this has helped her develop the charity and in doing so build a lasting legacy for her son.  

After we have all spent much of the last year in lockdown we all have a better understanding of the importance of outside spaces and gardens to our mental health. Olivia, and indeed Horatio, had that understanding some years ago and have used that knowledge to help others at a particularly challenging time of their life.

 Article & interview by Jenny Hair

Photo credit Chaz Oldham

Her Salisbury Story would like to thank Olivia for taking part in our project

Olivia Chapple

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