Gardening tips and a day in the life of Head Gardener at Horatio’s Garden…

Stephen Hackett. Horatios Garden South West e1620121674648

One of our chosen charities for 2021 is the fantastic Horatio’s Garden. Horatio’s Garden is a national charity creating and nurturing beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support the mental health, wellbeing and rehabilitation of those affected by spinal injury.

Earlier this month we caught up with Stephen Hackett, Head Gardener in Horatio’s Garden South West at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre, Salisbury District Hospital, to find out about his job and also get some gardening top tips!

Stephen Hozelock

How long have you been Head Gardener at Horatio’s Garden and what did you do before?

I’ve been Head Gardener at Horatio’s Garden South West since 2016. I studied Philosophy at university and then had a very varied career – lecturing, arts administration, and adult education – before retraining as a gardener in 2010. I ran my own garden business for 5 years before the opportunity at Horatio’s Garden came up.

One of the best things about the job is that there is rarely an ‘average’ day! In the morning, I’ll walk around the garden to make sure that everything is looking its best, and give our volunteers tasks to do for the day. The garden is lovely and quiet in the early morning, and it’s a chance to reflect on what is working and what needs attention. I take lots of photos, some to post on social media, and some to record the garden as it changes through the year – they’re my visual notes of things that might need tweaking, tomorrow or next year. In the afternoons I am around to work alongside the patients, who normally come into the garden after lunch. We might be sowing seeds, potting up young plants, or just chatting about what’s growing at the moment. The patients always have lots of questions about the garden, and often want to grow some of our plants in their own gardens when they get home again. Before I leave, I always have another walk around to check things and make notes for the following day. But, as I say, no two days are ever the same.

What is your favourite part for your job?

Absolutely my favourite part of the job is the interaction with patients. They are always so appreciative of the garden, and so willing to talk about the positive difference it’s making to their time in hospital. Gardening can sometimes be quite a solitary job, and it’s wonderful to share the garden with so many people – patients, hospital staff and our volunteers. There’s a real sense of community about the place.

Where does your gardening inspiration come from?

I’ve always been interested in gardening, my dad and grandfather were good gardeners. I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to influences – I’ll take whatever catches my eye and store it away for possible future use, whether it’s a particular plant or plant combination, a design feature or a whole new approach. Of course, one has one’s gardening ‘heroes’: for me it’s Christopher Lloyd, Derek Jarman and Dan Pearson. I love reading about gardens and visiting them when I can. And being able to work here with regular input from the wonderful Cleve West is an absolute delight – not only a great designer but a lovely man.

Horatio's Garden South West (1)
Horatio's Garden South West (2)

Top tips for anyone taking up gardening this year

  • My first gardening tips is to avoid using peat in the garden. Peat extraction is an environmental disaster, and there are some really good peat-free composts out there. At Salisbury we only use Melcourt Sylvagrow which is wonderful stuff.


  • Don’t rush and get disheartened. Gardening is about process as much as product – if you’re not enjoying it, just relax. Take time to look at your space before plunging in, and plan things on advance or it’s easy to get distracted by different tasks.


  • My final gardening tip is to work with the space not against it. The soil, the aspect, the amount of sun and rain – all these will mean that some plants will love your garden, but others won’t like it at all. Trust the plants – they know where they’re happiest. Even if there are some things that won’t grow in your plot, there will plenty that’ll be completely at home and will flourish.
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About the Author

Horatio’s Garden is a national charity creating and nurturing beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres to support the mental health, wellbeing and rehabilitation of those affected by spinal injury. Leading landscape designers create the gardens and each one is cared for by dedicated volunteers, led by a Head Gardener. The charity aims to bring a Horatio’s Garden to all 11 spinal injury centres in the UK. We hope you enjoyed reading through our gardening tips.

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