Students and Veterans work together to create RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden



Military charity Help for Heroes and Sparsholt College have announced their partnership for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018. Their garden, The Force for Good, will tell the powerful story of the role horticulture plays in the recovery and ongoing support of injured British Armed Forces personnel and their families. Individual stories are told through the three elements of the garden as the team of college and former-military gardeners inform visitors of the journey from injury or illness through to recovery and beyond. The Force for Good garden is a demonstration of how horticulture has given these individuals a second chance at life and how everyone can benefit from its therapeutic benefits.

Sparsholt College’s Horticulture students are working collaboratively with their Help for Heroes counterparts to design and create The Force for Good, a garden of three different sections. The students were inspired by conversations at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House in Wiltshire where those being supported by the charity take part in gardening activities.

Rachel Willis Credit Stewart Turkington

Rachel Willis
Credit Stewart Turkington

Rachel Willis, an Army veteran from Salisbury travelled all over the world during her 21-year career until a back injury resulted in a medical discharge: “My injuries left me in constant pain and fatigue, it was another ten years until I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Fibromyalgia in 2017.”

Speaking of the project she said: “Getting involved in creating The Force for Good garden has made me realise there is more to me than just being ex-Army. It is opening lots of avenues in life I thought were closed or would never open. I’ve realised I can and actually want to learn, my brain was so frazzled before, I didn’t even want to think, let alone concentrate or take on board new information.”

The positioning and grouping of plants in the ‘Surviving’ section of the garden will show the disorientation, conflicting emotions and mental state of those being supported by Help for Heroes before they enter any recovery programme. As they progress through their journey to ‘Stability’, the garden will portray a number of horticultural activities undertaken at the four Recovery Centres nationwide with a focus on crop production and horticulture skills. The third and final section of the garden ‘Support’ will show how planting and landscaping, including a still pool and seating, can create an area promoting recovery and ongoing support. The stage when an individual becomes an active member of their community again, and can make a positive impact in society once more.

The garden will engage all of its visitors’ senses, using relevant sound tracks in each section. White noise will help convey chaos and confusion, natural sounds will give a sense of nature and the outdoors and a symphonic piece of music, composed especially for Help for Heroes, will provide the backdrop to peace, calm and relaxation.

Sparsholt College’s lecturer, horticulture and garden design expert Chris Bird is leading the student team: “RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the most famous show of its kind and whether you are an experienced, high-profile designer or just getting started in a horticulture career, it is an incredible, career-enhancing experience. We are very proud to be working alongside Help for Heroes to share the powerful stories of those the charity supports, whilst showcasing the therapeutic and restorative benefits gardening has for health and wellbeing.”

At least one in four people in the population will be affected by mental health issues in any one year and horticulture has been shown to help recovery and general mental wellbeing.* Working with plants and flowers or simply experiencing a beautiful green space can improve health and wellbeing, aid rehabilitation, reduce depression, anxiety and stress-related symptoms while also helping to improve self-esteem, confidence and mood. Gardening can positively impact a local community by bringing people together. Elements of The Force for Good garden will be re-homed following RHS Chelsea 2018, will be donated to community groups helping more people to learn, grow and heal through gardening.

Lucy Thorpe, Horticultural Therapist at Help for Heroes said: “We are delighted that Sparsholt College students chose to focus on the recovery journey of wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans. We have seen first-hand how horticulture and nature courses have empowered Veterans. In some cases, this has led to those we support achieving a City and Guilds qualification and going onto study further RHS courses at Sparsholt college.”


Notes to Editors

Help for Heroes

  • Help for Heroes supports those with injuries and illnesses sustained while serving in the British Armed Forces. No matter when someone served, we give them the support they need to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives.
  • Its specialist teams focus on the five key areas of an individual’s life: medical, mind, body, spirit and family. The charity provides support to the whole family to help them all cope with the challenges they face. Long-term recovery is more than repairing damaged bodies and minds; it’s about rebuilding lives.
  • For more information about Help for Heroes, please visit
  • For interview requests for Help for Heroes veterans and staff please contact the Help for Heroes Communications Officer – / 01980 844389

Sparsholt College

Sparsholt College Hampshire has a long history of Chelsea medal success achieving seven Gold medals, three Silver-gilt medals, six Silver medals and three Bronze medals since 1998. It offers a range of courses at its Winchester campus which boasts five hectares dedicated to horticultural practice, including the Gardeners’ Question Time Potting Shed, landscaped gardens, lawns and decorative beds, a garden design studio, tropical glasshouses, an orchard and ornamental grounds providing a wide variety of plants for identification and analysis.

Sparsholt College offers the following Horticulture courses:

  • Level 1-3 Horticulture
  • Level 2-3 Apprenticeship in Horticulture (Greenkeeping, Groundsman, Landscaping and Production)

Adults can try their hand at a new skill or develop a long-held interest through the College’s part-time courses such as RHS courses including Practical Horticulture, Principles in Garden Planning Theory and Principles in Plant Growth Theory.

University Centre Sparsholt offers the following Horticulture courses:

  • Diploma in Garden Design
  • FdSc Horticulture with Plantsmanship and Design
  • BSc (Hons) Horticulture with Plantsmanship and Design

*Health and wellbeing benefits linked to green spaces and horticulture

  • Psychological restoration and increased general mental wellbeing
  • Reduction in depression, anxiety and stress related symptoms
  • Improvement in dementia-related symptoms
  • Improved self-esteem, confidence and mood
  • Increased attentional capacity and cognition
  • Improved happiness, satisfaction and quality of life
  • Sense of peace, calm or relaxation
  • Feelings of safety and security
  • Increased social contact, inclusion and sense of belonging
  • Increase in work skills, meaningful activity and personal achievement

Source: Natural England Commissioned Report NECR204, a review of nature-based interventions for mental health care.

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