By: 2 May 2019
‘My son’s legacy sees spinal patients bloom’

SSN meets David Chapple, spine surgeon and co-founder of charity Horatio’s Garden

Horatio’s Garden is a national charity that creates and cares for gardens at NHS spinal injury centres in the UK. The charity’s mission is to have a thriving Horatio’s Garden in every one of the 11 NHS spinal injury centre in the UK – to date they have opened three gardens (in Salisbury, Glasgow and Stoke Mandeville), there is a fourth under construction and the capital appeal for the fifth garden is well under way.

Horatio was David’s eldest son and while working as a volunteer in the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust when he was only 16 years old, he saw the need for a garden for the patients and their friends and families. He produced a questionnaire that showed patients wanted a beautiful place that they could get to easily. They wanted an area to get away from the busy ward environment with its strip lights, noise and smells. They wanted a place to relax and gain some peace and an environment to share with others, to help them all during their many months in hospital.

Tragically, Horatio never saw the garden as he was killed in 2011, but everyone at the charity continue to support his vision, and his legacy is bringing profound impact on people affected by spinal injuries.

SSN: Tell us a little about your background and education in the spinal industry?

DC: I am a Consultant Orthopaedic and Spinal Surgeon working at two spinal hospitals. I started working in Salisbury in 2001 as the only spinal surgeon and have built the team to six surgeons at Ramsay Healthcare New Hall (now the second busiest spinal elective centre in the UK) and four spinal consultants at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. Prior to starting as a consultant, I undertook a Spinal Fellowship at Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia. My higher surgical training was at St George’s and medical school St Thomas’s. 

I took a long route into medicine doing a BSc in Neuro and Cellular Physiology at UCL, then an MSc in Human and Applied Physiology at Kings College London. I would have loved to have been an astronaut.

SSN: Tell us more about the charity you co-founded in memory of your son Horatio

DC: The first garden opened in Salisbury in 2012. Following the success of the project the charity started to be approached by other spinal injury centres. In 2016, we opened the second garden at the Scottish National Spinal Unit in Glasgow. The third Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville was opened by Mary Berry in September 2018 and brought great joy to all who use it, especially the children in the paediatric spinal injury centre. Horatio’s Garden Oswestry is being built and will be opening this summer, it will serve the excellent centre for the West Midlands and North Wales. The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Stanmore will be the recipient of the fifth Horatio’s Garden in 2020, if all the funds have been raised. Plans are also in the early stages for a Horatio’s Garden in Cardiff.

We don’t just build the gardens, we look after them, funding a head gardener at each Horatio’s Garden. We build a great team of volunteers to undertake the many jobs required to keep the gardens looking beautiful and welcoming throughout the year. The volunteers are so important to making Horatio’s Gardens places of kindness and warmth, to nurture the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of all who use the gardens. Activities and events are organised by the charity’s teams in the gardens – art, music, garden therapy and even tea and homemade cake all help people facing very difficult times. 

SSN: What does your role entail within the charity?

DC: I am a founding Trustee of the charity. I am there to support my wife as chairman of the trustees and in her voluntary role leading the charity. I help at fundraising events and many of the patient-centred activities going on in Horatio’s Garden, such as food and music weekend lunches. I also help man the stalls at the Chelsea Flower show and many other events.

SSN: How important is it for patients to experience healing gardens within the hospital grounds?

DC: It is obvious to all those who have enjoyed the gardens or spent time outside that their well-being is improved by the experience. There are numerous studies showing the health benefits for patients who spend time in beautiful green spaces and gardens.

SSN: What are the charity’s current research and fundraising projects?

DC: We have grants from educational foundations that fund internships and then collect research questionnaires about the use and benefits for the gardens. One strong finding is the significant benefit to the family of patients. The families are so positive about the help the garden has given them when trying to understand the huge challenges that face their loved one and themselves.

Fundraising is constant and relies on the huge generosity of individuals, the support from Trusts and Foundations and the charity focusing on big fundraising events. 

The website shows numerous events such as gala dinners, tea parties, and many fundraising challenges for individuals or teams.

SSN: How closely do you work with surgeons or hospital staff?

DC: The charity has gained a huge amount of good will and support from the spinal surgical community. We have been honoured to be chosen as the charity for BritSpine and BASS and hope that the surgeons and staff will see the benefits for their patients, who are stuck in hospital for such a long time.

Several industry companies have pledged their time with corporate responsibility working days in the gardens and financial support for meetings and events. However, we hope that many more companies will join and support in whatever way they feel they can.

SSN: How can our readers become involved in supporting Horatio’s Garden?

DC: It is very simple to contact us as we are a small but dynamic charity, so we can give time to try and find the best fit for the support they want to give. We are always on the hunt for volunteers to help us in the gardens themselves, we have an active friends programme and there are many fundraising events going on around the country. The website is the best place to see what we do and contact us, please visit