For me, I accidentally fell in love with gardening. I didn’t set out on a horticulture career, I set out on life with no plan. I joined the Army at 18 and my military career took off. I was lucky to travel the world and see lots of things in places others would love to, but I have also travelled to places I would not wish on my worst enemy!
I had a great career with lots of ups and downs but my biggest down was in 2016 when I received a medical discharge from the Army. I suffered a Bi-lateral stroke which has left me with no feeling in my left hand side, ataxia on my right and my hearing has been affected. When it happened I was a mess. Unable to walk for a long time (still struggling now), I was torn away from my military family and sent to a military hospital. My treatment was going ok but I kept being drawn to the hospital garden and to Carol, who worked there and was encouraging patients to try horticulture.
I loved it, I felt good being outdoors again putting all my pent up aggression into the heavy jobs in the garden and then making a space I could just chill out in and relax and enjoy the surroundings. Towards the end of my time I even spent two days a week at a local golf club working with the grounds maintenance team. Working in the garden I felt like me again.
I left the hospital and received a letter in the post saying I was no longer needed or wanted in the army as I was unable to complete my job to the standard required. While I accepted this, I was going backwards and hating everything in life. Just getting out of bed was a hassle and so was looking for work, especially when I had been advised there was nothing I could really do that would be suitable given my injuries. I fell into a spiral of despondency and just started to give up.
My fiancée Sarah grabbed me by the hand and fought relentlessly to get me the help I needed. It turned out I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and after getting a diagnosis I began to get the help I needed. I have regular therapy sessions and continue to keep my hand in with horticulture. Having a brilliant garden designer and horticulturist as a fiancée has helped me stay up-to-date and informed about all things garden-related.
In November 2018, I decided to set up Veterans’ Growth, a charity working with veterans from the tri-services who suffer with mental health issues. Bearing in mind my own struggle to get help, I wanted to provide treatment and support to veterans who are unable to access help and support from the NHS or other charitable organisations. Given how much I benefitted from horticulture, I wanted to pass this opportunity on to others too, so the charity provides a programme of horticultural therapy to every veteran in the UK who’s interested in taking part.
I have to say that losing a family like the Army was hard but I have landed on my feet in horticulture. The industry has taken me in and been immensely supportive, everyone from gardening greats to amazing designers, from growers to product suppliers. I feel like I’ve found a new family and they’ve made me feel at home. The phenomenal support for www.veteransgrowth.org has further enforced my conviction that I am doing the right thing and I hope to bring many Veterans into the welcoming world of horticulture.
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If you think you can assist or offer any donations of equipment or funds please send me a message on Jason@veteransgrowth.org or donate on our JustGiving page. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/veterans-growth?utm_term=d9z8bDwEv