The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
‘DOCTORS COULDN’T RECREATE NATURE’S MEDICINE, EVEN IF THEY TRIED’
Curtis Fraser, Norwood, south London
One afternoon in August last year, Curtis Fraser was working in the construction industry as a welder when he reached out to measure some material, lost his balance and fell from a considerable height.
The impact left the 55-year-old partially paralysed and unable to use his hands and feet. He arrived at the London Spinal Cord Injury Centre in September to begin the long recovery process.
Having long had an interest in birds, it wasn’t long before he discovered Horatio’s Garden London & South East (attached to the hospital) on his physiotherapy visits. Since then, he has visited the sanctuary at least once a day.
“Doing stuff in the garden helped my hands to function properly,” he says. “It was all those awkward movements: planting and digging in the dirt. Not only that, there’s a different feeling when you’re in nature, you know? I love the perfume of the flowers and the colours of the plants. It’s therapeutic. Doctors couldn’t recreate that feeling even if they tried.”
Fraser was eventually introduced to Ashley Edwards, the head gardener, for one-to-one gardening sessions. “When Curtis first came in, he had very little hand function and was barely able to hold tools,” says Edwards. “He required a lot of help in the garden sessions but, as each week goes by, I’ve seen a huge improvement in his dexterity.”
Fraser recalls the first session: “It was so good. We were chatting away and the time went by so quickly. Soon, I could do things that I didn’t think I would ever do again.”
For Fraser, the garden offered relief from the difficult appointments. “It gave me clear thoughts. In the garden, I’d forget that I was in hospital. I’d come out and think, ‘Oh man, still here’ – but I’d get a good feeling from the garden.” Fraser has been in recovery for seven months and was discharged from hospital on March 1.
Over winter, Fraser and Edwards worked together in the greenhouse to grow vegetables and fruit, including aubergines, chillies and sweet peppers.
This, in particular, sparked joy in Fraser. “I’ve liked growing for a long time,” he says. “I feel like it’s in my blood.” The budding gardener now recommends the garden to fellow patients on the ward, who return to tell him of its unique benefits. “That garden helped my recovery so much. Even for a little moment, I’d tell people to visit one. It can clear your mind.”