A secret garden behind the walls of Devonport Naval Base has been restored to its former glory by wounded Veterans and Servicepersonnel with the support of Help for Heroes.
Now known as Hero Garden, the land is the one remaining glimpse of the original site before Devonport Barracks was built in 1887. Fields and market gardens were built on to create accommodation for thousands of men, including the Commodore’s House, which retained a vegetable garden. That garden had been left relatively untouched for the past 25 years, unknown to many naval base workers, until it was passed over to Help for Heroes’ Plymouth Recovery Centre by the Commodore.
Hero Garden was officially opened on 18th September by Naval Base Commander Commodore Ian Shipperley in a ceremony led by Jock Easton, Help for Heroes Head of Recovery West, where a cherry tree was planted to mark the occasion. Guests enjoyed cream teas, which were made and served by professional cookery and hospitality students from Cornwall College Saltash, and entertainment from the Devonport Royal Navy Volunteer Band.
Commodore Shipperley commented: “The garden is looking unbelievable compared with even nine months ago when it was just a fallow old garden that had not been tended properly for many years. To see it now in all its glory with the wildflowers, the bees buzzing around, the vegetables growing and the new buildings is a joy to behold.
“I’m very glad we’ve been able to do something for our wounded, injured and sick to help in their recovery. It wasn’t being used and now it is in a very beneficial way. I’d like to see more people getting the message that it’s available for their use and to enjoy it and take it onto the next level because this is just the start.”
Veteran Royal Marine Commando Martin Payne, who trained in garden design before being injured, is behind the design of the redeveloped garden. In 2009, while on duty in Afghanistan, the vehicle Martin was in drove over an improvised explosive device, causing him to suffer a traumatic brain injury as well as damage to his neck, shoulder, ribs, lower back and pelvis. He now has frequent migraines caused by the blast, resulting in black outs. He was medically discharged as a Colour Sergeant in 2011. After his discharge Martin started a garden design business, designing several private gardens and a school allotment that went on to win a Britain in Bloom award, but had to give it up due to ill health. Now he has the chance to put his skills to good use for this worthy project.
With phase one now complete, phase two and three over the coming year will see further development of certain areas of the garden as well as the planning and delivery of activities aimed at enhancing the recovery of our wounded, with the focus on the psychological wellbeing of those with hidden wounds.
Eden Project Head of Estates Ian Merchant, who attended the opening and previously worked within the Naval Base as part of the Royal Navy, said: “I remember the base when it was in its heyday in the late 1970s when they had full time gardeners here and it was something special then, but this is really something special now and it’s just fantastic. It’s nice to see it regenerated. The layout of the place and the potential is fantastic. It’s all freshly planted but you can see that it’s going to be great - allotments off to one side, the thought that’s gone into the layout, the pavilion, sheds and beehives make it a lovely place. The wildflower area with the poppies is a very peaceful place to sit.
“We have something similar at the Eden Project, which looks after people with mental health issues and helps them rehabilitate and come to peace with themselves, feel valued, have a purpose and contribute to the project itself and give them the self-confidence to go on. That’s been a very useful project for us and I can see the same thing being really useful here for our community of wounded Servicemen and women."
The Plymouth Recovery Centre, which opened last year, supports wounded, injured and sick serving and veteran personnel, and their families, across the South West. If you have a forces background and are in need of support please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.