Horatio’s Garden; A Story of Tragedy and Healing

It’s every parents worst nightmare.

The call that comes to tell you your child is gone.

For Olivia and David Chapple of Salisbury, Wiltshire, that call came on August 5, 2011.

Horatio Chapple was only 17 years old when he took part in a five week Arctic Expedition the summer before his final year at Eton. In the early morning of August 5th, a starved polar bear came into the camp and attacked the tent Horatio and two others were sleeping in, killing Horatio and leaving his two tent mates and the two guides who rushed to help, critically injured.

The tripwire designed to alert the camp and set off explosive charges to scare away any intruding bears, failed to go off. The only rifle in the camp was old and difficult to use. There was a shortage of flare pens. These and other facts would be called into question later, but first there was only disbelief and overwhelming grief.

And an idea for a garden.

For the last two summers Horatio had volunteered at the clinic where his father David worked as a spinal surgeon. In his short time there, Horatio had seen a need for a garden; a space for patients to escape the confines of the hospital while coming to terms with their injuries. His father suggested he do some research into the feasibility of such a project, and with great enthusiasm that is exactly what Horatio did.

The young man made up a detailed questionnaire and took it around to the patients at the clinic, who all thought a garden would provide a welcome escape from the hospital.

As excitement for his idea gained momentum, Horatio even brought in the chairman of the NHS and pointed out to him from a window at the clinic, exactly where he imagined the garden being situated.

It was this memory of his son’s enthusiasm for the garden that David turned to in those first hours of grief. He made up his mind they would help his son’s dream become a reality. The family asked that donations of sympathy be given to what would become Horatio’s Garden. Within two weeks they raised an astonishing £23,000; equivalent to 42,000 Canadian dollars. And the gifts kept pouring in.

A year later, in September of 2012, Horatio’s Garden officially opened at the Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury, but the dream didn’t stop there.

A General Practitioner, Olivia gave up her practice to take on running the foundation for the gardens full time. She wanted to see her son’s vision come to fruition at all eleven spinal treatment centres across the UK.

The second Horatio’s Garden opened in 2016 at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow and the third Horatio’s Garden will open at The National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital this spring (2018).

In an article written for The Telegraph by Anna Tyzak she writes the following about how the garden became a lifeline for Horatio’s family, and how for Olivia Chapple, it became her way of continuing her relationship with her son.

“I’m still his mother; the love is still there but it is a different relationship. You’ve got to find a way to make that relationship work; that’s what keeps you going.”

It also helps her to reconcile the fact that her talented son, who was a keen trumpet player, budding actor, 1st XV rugby player and had won national titles for water polo, never got to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.

“I know that in life he was going to have a profound effect on a lot of people; this way he can still do that,” she says. “His life has a purpose beyond the people who knew him.”

What a remarkable young man Horatio was. His instincts were incredibly insightful and at such a young age.

As a blurb from the Horatio’s Garden website so aptly cites,

“Spinal cord injuries are catastrophic, life-changing events. Patients often have little or no access to the outside world during their hospital stay, yet research shows that at times of stress, being outside with nature contributes to a feeling of well-being.”

The story of Horatio’s Garden captured my heart both as a mother and a believer in the healing powers of a garden. The story of Horatio, his family and his legacy is a stellar example of how gardens can bring about healing and hope, even in our darkest moments. Or perhaps, especially in our darkest moments.

To see pictures of Horatio’s Garden and to learn more about the project simply click on the icon below.