The Horizon Centre – A Seven Year Itch

I meant to write this last year but the delay has not been for any emotional reluctance, it really has just been a case of finding the time.


The Garden at the Horizon Centre in Summer

I worked at the Horizon Centre, South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust’s specialist learning disability service, for seven years, between 2009 and 2016. My role was a stand alone position, as the Horticultural Practitioner, charged with maintaining and running a therapy garden whilst also delivering sessions to adults with learning disabilities who had been referred to the service. The service was based on the Trust’s Fieldhead site, just outside Wakefield town centre in West Yorkshire along with other specialist services, such as Elderly, low secure mental health service and the medium secure Newton Lodge unit.At this stage it is worth glancing back to the history of learning disability and mental health services and their use of horticulture in the Wakefield area to appreciate it in context.

stanley royd

Stanley Royd Hospital – The replacement Fieldhead Hospital is located where the long lines of sheds are at the top middle of the picture.

When the change in mental health provision changed and the movement to more community living scenarios began the new Fieldhead hospital was built. It consisted of a series of ‘villas’ where people lived. During this time people started to go outside, sit in the garden, start to garden near the building and then developed into a large scale garden as the benefits to the people living there became evident. This existed and developed for many years until another change in the way people with disabilities and mental health issues should live and be treated came into play. At this point the governmental decision was that people should live and have a presence in the community (this is a debate for other, more expert professionals than myself). With this change the villas were demolished and people moved into the community. These were replaced with the specialist services, such as the Horizon Centre, where people would stay (should they be in crisis) or be referred to attend day appointments as specialist assessment or treatment. Staff had witnessed and valued the benefits horticulture had provided to the service users and this led to a garden being a significant inclusion in the plans for the new building.


Looking over the Horizon Centre garden on a winter’s afternoon.

I started the role in July 2009. The position had been vacant for approximately 18 months and the garden still in it’s infancy, though all of the hard landscaping and buildings had already been decided/were in place. The greenhouses being moved over from the previous villa garden, which was situated just in front of the tree line on the horizon.

The team at the Horizon Centre was multi-disciplinary, including physio’s, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, therapy assistants and myself. The aim was that when a situation in some live changed, such as behaviour, moving out of parents care into supported living, then they would be referred to the Horizon centre for specialist input. This information would lead to a report and recommendations that Social Services would then put into place.


The first summer in one of the greenhouses.

Over the course of seven years I worked with a wide range of people with learning disabilities helping them discover horticulture, improve their horticulture skills and interest or improve their social skills through horticulture (I do accept that not everyone likes physically gardening!). I run individual and group sessions and this set up allowed people, once confident with myself, staff, the environment could often then be exposed, in a structured way to a group and eventually entirely integrated in it. In a lot of cases the aim was to establish friendships which could be transferred to community services. The ultimate aim was that people would come to our service and leave to engage better in local services and be able to lead an improved life in their own community. There was no fixed time limit for each person, which was an excellent way to approach such treatment as no two people are the same.


The greenhouse the last summer.


Chilli harvest including Fatalli and Bhut Jolokia

Over the years I was involved in many activities and grew many different things, which was mainly dictated by the service users. We grew a wide range of chillis, aubergines, traditional and heirloom tomatoes (some people just know ‘Alisa Craig’ and ‘Gardener’s Delight’ and wont go near a yellow tomato), watermelons, cantaloupe melons, a variety of soft fruit, traditional outside vegetables as well as a range of annual and perennial flowers.

Myself and the Trust’s other horticultural therapy professional, Tony Howden, at Newton Lodge set up a service helping other staff to utilise the benefits of using horticulture as an activity with the service users they worked with. The aim was to understand what horticultural activities were being carried out across the Trust and to improve people’s understanding and providing them with skills and confidence to carry out horticulture tasks, such as propagation techniques. We also assisted them to attain funding for various projects.

In 2013 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to travel to Canada and the USA to study and compare the development of horticultural therapy as a profession. More information and the subsequent report of those findings can be found at my sister blog: The Travelling HT


At the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, Canada.

Sadly, in June 2015 the Trust announced it was undergoing a ‘Transformation’ of the learning disability service. This involved removing the community based part of the service from the Horizon Centre, leaving the remaining inpatient service. The community service becoming more flexible and remote, working across the district. This meant that my post was redundant, resulting in the loss of specialised horticultural therapy for people with learning disabilities. This was a long and frustrating process, culminating eighteen months later with my redundancy in October 2016.


The biggest cabbages I have ever been involved in growing, sweetcorn and peaches in the polytunnel.

I am not bitter, I don’t hold a grudge, things change and move on. Nor was I naïve. Working in such a field, as a lone practitioner, you are aware (though not worth dwelling on) that such a post could be at the whim of a manager during a re-structure.

On reflection, once the dust had settled, the main frustration lies in the lack of understanding from higher level management on the benefits of horticulture and how cost effective such a service can be. There was no discussion with myself about what the service offered, how many people attended or what they outcomes were. This is a shame, because, despite all of the research carried out on and the increased publicity of horticultural therapy it had still not resonated or be valued by management in the health care sector. It is not right to suggest that this approach of one Trust is typical of all but it is a worrying situation in a time where the aim is for personalised budgets, personalised healthcare and a movement away from traditional pharmaceutical treatment (where possible).

There is no longer specialist horticulture input in the learning disability service. While horticulture continues and must do in all services aimed at improving people’s health and quality of life it cannot be overlooked the importance of professional input. My time there has come and gone and life moves on but a fundamental understanding of horticulture, a group of people and how to adapt activities is essential in order to ensure a safe, inviting, stimulating space with a range of activities in which the benefits of horticulture can be fully exploited.



Sheffield Botanical Gardens

On Friday morning (21st) I made the short trip down the M1 to Sheffield Botanical Garden. It was my first visit, I have no idea why, but it wont be my last.


It was brought back to life thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant and great work from the Friends of Sheffield Botanical Gardens, which was founded in 1983. A major part of this restoration was the Joseph Paxton Pavilion, a long glasshouse depicting different climates around the World, such as New Zealand, South Africa, Central America and the Mediterranean.

The garden was designed in Victorian style and the bedding schemes demonstrate the style at the time. A display of vivid colours from the newly brought in plants from around the World. I do concede they may not be to everyone’s taste, in fact, the colour clashes cause me some discomfort.

In the middle of the garden, is the rock and water garden, which takes a little bit of finding, which is part of it’s charm. It feels a million miles from anywhere and is well planted and a good respite. Worth spending the time looking for it.

I was particularly taken by this pair of eucalyptus trees. The white one is a real gem. I need to find out the variety.IMG_1340

The gardens are easy to find, are FREE to enter and you can park on the road outside for free after 9:30. No excuses!

Sheffield Botanical Gardens website:

The friends of group is on twitter and volunteer on a Wednesday mornings. @FOBSheffield

Madeira’s Gardens

I thought it might be nice to share some information about a recent trip I had to Madeira and some of the gardens that I visited in and around the capital, Funchal.

Madeira, situated a little north of the Canary Islands has a sub-tropical climate so is much greener than the main Canary Islands. It has long been famed for it’s lush growth and ability to grow a huge variety of plants.

Jardim Botanico317274_10150512952013032_1909915576_n

Also know as the Madeira Botanical Garden. It was opened to the public in 1960 after previously being part of William Reid’s (founder of Reid’s Hotel) estate.

You can get to the garden via public bus but the most common way is by cable car ride from a station located a short walk from the Monte cable car station (the main cable car that you see leaving Funchal by the coast). You can buy a combined ticket for both cable cars and entrance to the garden at the Funchal cable car station.

The garden is steep, as is everything in Madeira, but in this case, particularly the entrance it is very steep and set over various terraces as you walk down the garden. Plan in a couple of breaks for the walk back up!

It is mainly famous for its dense bedding garden and fabulous views over the bay of Funchal. However there is a lot more to it and the cactus garden is notable, as is the tea house.384346_10150512952873032_1786893485_n

Monte Palace Tropical Garden


Situated right next to the Monte cable car station and worth doing in the same trip as Jardim Botanico before heading back into Funchal via a ride on the famous basket sleds.

First of all, it is huge, 70,000 sq metres and is terraced into the hillside. Again, you enter at the top and leave at the top. Easier going down that back up. It is an exotic garden with a far east feel to the bulk of it. It was first opened to the public in 1991 and was created by Jose Berado who was influenced by a trip to Japan and China.375184_10150512953673032_371896083_n

Madeira is very proud of this garden and it is one of the main garden’s to visit on the ‘list’ along with the Jardim Botanico. At times I found it a bit overwhelming, so vast, so much planting, so much lush vegetation, so many ponds and so many Koi. I don’t for one minute say that is a bad thing, maybe it is one of those gardens you need to take more time over, or maybe, if possible, to visit more than once.

It is the most expensive of Madeira’s gardens to visit at 10 euros, plus factor in the cost of the cable car  and potentially the wicker basket trip down towards Funchal (30 euros for two) and it is an expensive day out, but you need to see it, savor it and have an opinion on it.


Quinta Viglia

Situated just up Avenue Do Infante, behind Santa Catarina park, heading towards the hotel district from the centre of Funchal is the garden of Quinta Viglia. It is the home of the President of the Regional Government and if he is not is residence then the garden gates are open and the public can visit for free.


A tiny chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows was founded on this site and in 1662 and the chapel has been incorporated into the presidential buildings. The gardens were remade between 1979 and 1982 and are maintained by staff from Jardim Botanico


It is the best free garden I have ever visited and a must if you go to Madeira. It is only small but is a great representation of a Madeiran garden and is so well kept and preserved. It also appears under-visited (I think I have been three times now and each time it feels quite private, which is a pleasant experience) and at the end of the garden a great terrace offers some stunning views over the harbour and bay of Funchal, even when it is raining (the subtropical climate means it does sometimes rain in Madeira.


Santa Catarina Public Park


A genuinely fantastic public park situated just on the rise of Avenue Do Infante out of Funchal. It offers amazing views of the bay and the municipal planting beds are filled with house plants from back home, amarylis, spider plants etc. In April, the stocks and calendular were in full blood like an English summers day.


As with Quinta Viglia (above) it is free to visit, (you can cash this in as an off-set for the price it cost you to visit Jardim Botanico and Monte Palace Garden, or visit them more than once).

When the sun comes out so do all the lizards which dawn the volcanic rock walls that flank the garden. IMG_9614

Bradford Works and NorthCliffe (NEET)

Last month I visited Catherine Russell, who runs Bradford Works. This project was set up by Shipley College who work in partnership with local organisations to deliver horticultural projects in the local area. It is a not-for-profit social enterprise supporting the development of local unemployed people into work through grounds maintenance and landscape management contracts.

Bradford works is now well established and has responsibility for many local greenspace areas, including places Bradford Council used to maintain but can no longer do so due to budget cuts.

They work closely with another social enterprise in the Shipley area, Northcliffe Environmental Enterprises Team (NEET). Also a charity, NEET is located at Northcliffe Nurseries. Starting out as “a couple of allotments and a polytunnel” the project has grown to occupy a huge site containing; large scale heated propagation house, commercial size polytunnels, a garden centre, cafe, wildlife garden, outdoor classroom (which is used by local school groups) and a wood workshop.

Making full use of these facilities NEET provides real work opportunities for in a genuine work setting for people with learning disabilities. People attending the project do so through their support packages and making use of self-directed budgets they choose to attend NEET, leading to a great demand for the service, which is surely the best measure of success.

Whether it sits comfortably or not we are currently in challenging and changing times in regards to our traditional health care, social care, educational and local authority services. What I witnessed at these services was how small organisations can find a role in providing these services to a high standard whilst understanding, including and offering opportunities to the people who are traditionally regarded as the most vulnerable in society.

Also worth noting is that before I returned I had a great lunch, in fact the best meal I have had out in a long time, at Saltaire Canteen Pay What You Feel (#PWYF) cafe in Saltaire. Using food items that supermarkets would have thrown away they create some great meals. There is no printed menu, as it changes depending on what ingredients they have available. Drinks are priced, in order to cover stock replacement, but for the meals you a given an envelope in which you pay what you feel the meal was worth or what you can afford. I fully recommend it.

Bradford Works:


Tomato ‘Montserrat’ – A New Favourite? I think so…

Tomato 'Montserrat'

Tomato ‘Montserrat’

I know, I know, in my last post about Heirloom Tomatoes I declared my undying love for ‘Brandywine’ as my continued favourite (after growing it for the first time last year and confirming it this year), but then I encountered ‘Montserrat’. We grew this variety for the first time at South West Yorkshire’s NHS Horizon Centre Therapy Garden. must admit I knew nothing about it until it grew. The seeds were given to me, saved from their own crop, so I did not even have the seed packet to go on. I was a little dubious when I cut it open when it resembled more of a pepper than a tomato.

Tomato 'Montserrat'

Tomato ‘Montserrat’

But the flavour, oh dear me the flavour, it is the sweetest large tomato I have ever encountered. It roasted really well in the oven and then I put it with some gnocchi. Traditionally everyone goes for ‘San Marzano’ as the pasta sauce tomato, but I have never had any great success with them. ‘Montserrat’ is the best pasta sauce tomato I have had. You wont pick up another jar of pasta sauce from supermarket.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Selection of Tomatoes grown at Horizon Centre

Selection of Tomatoes grown at Horizon Centre

Just a short post, but the tomatoes this year have been very interesting and very very nice.

At the Horizon Centre therapy garden we have got eight different tomatoes growing in the two glasshouses. All of them are different varieties. A couple we have grown before, ‘Sungold’ being one of them. If you have never grown ‘Sungold’ and you like sweet cherry tomatoes this is the one for you. It is the sweetest I have ever grown and tasted. I can’t remember coming across it at all until a few years ago but all the major seed suppliers now sell it. It should be noted that it is not a Heirloom variety (which I do appreciate does not fit in with the post title, but while I was here I thought I should mention it).

Tomato 'Rainbow's End'

Tomato ‘Rainbow’s End’

The main purpose of this post was to inform you all of my new favourite tomato. I am not a fan of the ubiquitous cherry red in boxed salads, in fact, I can’t say that I like them at all raw. Last year, in my home garden I grew a few of the beefsteak varieties. This was mainly because I brought a few seeds back with me from America and Canada and a lot of the ones I saw that I had not seen before were of the beefsteak variety, such as ‘Great White’, ‘Rainbow’s End’ and ‘Mortgage Lifter’. I was very pleasantly surprised by ‘Great White’, they looked spectacular, their flowers were really pretty ‘double’ looking and most importantly the flavour was great, with a really thick and juicy flesh. Not sour at all.

Tomato 'Great White'

Tomato ‘Great White’

Therefore, this year we added ‘Rainbow’s End’, ‘Great White’, ‘Ox Heart’ and ‘Brandywine’. All of these are Heirloom varieties, so we can keep the seed and grow them again, which, at the moment, I would like to do.

‘Brandywine’ has been my favourite so far. A lovely tomato. The best I have ever tasted. Perfect flesh for slicing, huge fruits, juicy with plenty of flavour and excellent on a bit of bread with just salt and pepper (fresh basil doesn’t do it any harm either). You can see from the photo below why supermarkets don’t go for them as they don’t have the traditional “shelf appeal”, though that is quite sad.

Tomato 'Brandywine'

Tomato ‘Brandywine’

I can definitely recommend ‘Beefsteak’ and ‘Great White’ and ill update you with information about ‘Mallorquin’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ and a couple others as we get to them. We are very much enjoying them at the moment. Just looking at them is worthwhile and peoples’ reaction to the size and look is great. They often do not realise that tomatoes have a variety of shape, sizes and colour. Tasting them is the best bit though.

‘Therapeutic Horticulture: Horticulture as a Medical Treatment’ – The Report

I have been meaning to do this for a while, in fact, I have been meaning to update the blog for a while. Not to dwell on what I should and shouldn’t have done, but here is the report I completed examining horticultural therapy practice between the UK and North America. It was funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

If all works as planned, it should be available to download and read by clicking on the link below, which will open the report as a PDF file.

Therapeutic Horticulture – Horticulture as a Medical Treatment