A former Airwoman in the Royal Air Force has recently completed a Practical Horticulture course alongside eight other wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans with Help for Heroes.
Gillian Parker joined the military in January 1979 after years of being a young cadet. Gillian enjoyed the routine and structure that the lifestyle brings: “I’d do it all again. I’d join back tomorrow if I could.”
Gillian worked as a Senior Aircraftwoman for the seven years she served in the RAF, but a traumatic fall shattered her knee and led to her being medically discharged. Gillian says: “I didn’t want to leave the Air Force and it got me down. I’d changed a lot as a person during my service, I was diagnosed with depression after leaving and I became very low and hid away from the outside world.”
During her time in service, Gillian worked in a hospital that injured Falkland personnel were sent to – “I saw a lot of death and really traumatic injuries and that stayed with me for a long time.”
Even now, Gillian struggles with depression and low mood: “I never leave the house unless I am gardening, and even then, my friend often has to convince me.”
Gillian’s life started to turn around when she was introduced to military charities at a bowls match she attended and has now joined the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers fellowship and recently took part in a gardening course at Help for Heroes Recovery Centre Tedworth House, in which she has gained a Level 2 City & Guilds qualification in Practical Horticulture.
“I can’t stand for long periods of time because of my knee injury, but the adapted flower beds at the Recovery Centre made it a lot easier for me if I was struggling, and the adapted garden tools meant I didn’t have to bend for long amounts of time.”
Help for Heroes, through its partnership with City & Guilds, launched the course in 2015. It has offered wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans the skills and knowledge to successfully grow their own vegetables, from sowing seeds through to harvesting and was led by Help for Heroes’ Horticultural Therapist, Lucy Thorpe.
“I’ve found that when I’m gardening I’m in my own little world, the group caught me singing away to myself lots because I was so focused. The course made me feel really positive.”
Gillian wrote a poem to mark the end of the course which is called ‘Horticulture Heaven’
We came together as a group of eight, to learn, to weed, to propagate.Lucy taught us what to do,And Rosie told us the benefits of Alpaca poo!Beans, peas and plenty of tomatoes,Were put into pots, and we waited to see if it grows.
Some things were hard, like naming a weed,We helped each other along, and managed to succeed.Soil samples from home were tested, different types were found,Then we learnt how to prepare the ground,Into the prepared trench, we put our seeds and plants,But checked them first, so that no pests could be found.
I always thought that two sticks and string were for tripping up your elder brother,But on the course their use was another;Keeping rows straight and the distance between,So that the dreaded weeds could be seen.
A trip to Woolbeding Gardens wet our appetite,It was such a lovely sight. There we planted and potted,And I managed to get a hose knotted!
Now we’ve come to the end,And ours thanks we send,To Lucy and Help for Heroes, We’ve planted things that in time grows,Along with our knowledge,That we learnt at Tedworth House (college).