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.



Horticultural Therapy at Pennine Camphill Community


In December 2014 I was invited to visit Pennine Camphill Community and its garden by Garden Manager James Lee and Transition Officer Anita Hepple.

Pennine Camphill Community is part of the wider Camphill Movement. The Camphill Movement aims to create community settings where children, young people and adults, many with learning disabilities, can live, learn and work together in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation, care and respect.

The Camphill movement is inspired from ideas of Rudolf Steiner (Austrian philosopher and social reformer) and developed by Karl König, the founder of Camphill.  It is based on the spiritual uniqueness of each person, regardless of their differences.

Pennine is a specialist college providing further education and support for young people who have learning difficulties. As their name suggests, Pennine is more than just a college, it is a community. “Many aspects of life at Pennine revolve around the five households which provide a home life for residential students and work and training opportunities for day students. Day students join one of the houses where they have lunch sharing some of the daily household activities.  Each house has a different character, depending on the blend of people living in the household at any one time.” (taken from their website:


Pennine is located in the village of Chapelthorpe, between Wakefield and Barnsley in West Yorkshire and surrounded by nearly 50 acres of farmland and grassland which is home cattle, sheep and pigs and bees. As well as horticulture they offer a range of therapeutic and educational activities, such as weavery, woodwork, basket weaving, pottery as well as ‘tools for self reliance’ where students refurbish tools. Pennine’s approach aims to stimulate creativity and allow students to build a sense of achievement and develop self-confidence and self-esteem.


The vegetable and fruit gardens cover 3 acres and consist of four very large vegetable beds, an agricultural sized polytunnel which is adjacent to a series of accessible raised beds made from railway sleepers. The garden also includes two new greenhouses which are interlinked by a connecting door which allows one area to be insulated and heated in winter. They also have access to an indoor work and storage facilties on the ground floor of the craft hub.


Similar to the traditional Victorian walled kitchen garden the fruit, vegetables and salads are taken to the five on-site houses daily to produce seasonal healthy meals for the day students and house residents. This provides a clear end product for the students growing the produce. They also preserve the produce by freezing and creating items such as passata which are stored for winter use.

The organisation is always on the look out for community projects to be involved in which not only provides a change of scenary for the students but increases the profile of Pennine, the work they do and builds positive ties with the local community, projects such as growing sapling trees for the Friends of Newmillerdam who manage a local woodland.

In order to help to manage such a large site, and is the case with many horticultural therapy projects, the Camphill Community utilises local and live-in volunteers. The live-in volunteers, called co-workers, stay on site for a year and help to run the houses and learning activities. Currently James has volunteer from Colombia and South Korea who help with the garden projects.

To find out more about Pennine Camphill Community please visit:

You can also follow Pennine Camphill Community on Twitter: @penniner

More excellent videos documenting the work being carried out at Pennine can be found on YouTube:

You can find how to apply for a student place please visit: or phone our Admissions Secretary on 01924 255281.

To find out how to volunteer at Pennine please visit:

To find out more Friends of Newmillerdam please visit:


A Visit to Helmsley Walled Garden


Last week I visited the horticultural therapy program at  Helmsley Walled Garden in North Yorkshire. Helmsley is set within the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and approximately 15 miles east of Thirsk.

The walled garden once served as the kitchen garden for the Duncombe Estate. The original kitchen garden was closer to the River Rye but after being flooded out was re-located to it’s current position. The garden was eventually abandoned in 1984 before the restoration began 10 years later to bring the garden back to life. At the same time Alison Ticehurst felt that the garden should be utilised for benefiting the local community and a healing garden and horticultural therapy project was pursued. In 2014, the garden celebrates its 20 year anniversary.


The horticultural therapy service uses the term ‘Supported Volunteer’ to describe people accessing its sessions. There are currently 20 Supported Volunteers and approximately 100 volunteers helping to run and maintain the garden. The Supported Volunteers are involved in all aspects of the garden, with particular focus on the production and sale of plants to the general public. It is not a service for a specific disability or condition, all are welcome.

Helmsley Walled Garden does not charge for the service it provides for Supported Volunteers. The cost is covered by plant sales, entry to the garden (currently £5.50 for adults) and the on-site café. The service employs three part-time horticultural therapists and is run year round, with reduced hours over the winter months.


On a personal level, I would dare to argue that such a great service which is open to a variety of people and in a fantastic settings should receive direct payment in line with other day services. I appreciate that is by no means as easy as writing that sentence. There are all the legal ramifications and obtaining ‘preferred supplier’ status with the local care authorities but I would be surprised if it does not offer a service in line with other services provided in the area.

The manager highlighted a major concern for the future was that rural public transport is being considerably affected by the government spending cuts, which has reduced services in the area. In the long term, this may hamper Supported Volunteers from being able to just get to the garden.

The garden is open to the public from April 2014 and I thoroughly recommend a visit, if only to admire the long perennial borders and large array of trained fruit trees. There is of course a lot more to offer from a horticultural point of view, including the Victorian glasshouses, but you will be able to feel fulfilment that your entry fee and any subsequent spend it going to help run and worthwhile and excellent service for people in the local community.


For more information on Helmsley Walled Garden, its Horticultural Therapy Program and visiting the garden please visit:

Thomas Rivers – The Orchard House

Some of you may have seen Chris Beardshaw talk about Thomas Rivers and his recommended way of cultivating peach trees in pots on Beechgrove Garden this week. Well, I did a bit of scouring on the internet and found a free download, a scan of the original ‘The Orchard; The Cultivation of Fruit Trees in Pots Under Glass’.

Here is the link to the document: (You can download the format you want at the bottom of the page).

Thomas Rivers was instrumental in the breeding of fruit varieties in England during the Victorian walled garden boom. Rivers’ original nursery fell into disrepair but is being lovingly brought back to life. Another visit to add to my growing list. More information on the nursery in Hertfordshire can be found here:

Croxteth Hall Walled Kitchen Garden

Ok, so not strictly horticultural therapy, but I had to write something about a recent visit to Croxteth Hall Walled Kitchen Garden in Liverpoool.


It is not just another walled kitchen garden, and I cannot get enough of these anyway, but a vast and significant Victorian one with many fruit trees over a century old. Many of which are trained in the traditional espalier and cordon styles as well as some inventive shapes and arches. The well preserved glasshouses and heated ripening walls (with their smoking chimneys) are worth the admission fee alone.

The garden is run by Liverpool council and costs a very nice £2.50 entry for an adult and I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Helmsley Walled Garden – Yorkshire

A great walled garden in the heart of beautiful Yorkshire countryside (I would say that being from Yorkshire myself!). Not only does it look great but it is run by the local community and offers a horticultural therapy service.

It is definitely worth a visit whether you are interested in horticultural therapy or not. However, save space for lunch at the vegetarian vine-house cafe where they use ingredients grown in the garden.

There is a small admission charge.

More about the garden and it’s horticultural therapy programme can be found here: