‘The garden is a lifeline’: Amputees learn to be mobile again with the power of gardening

A hospital’s award-winning garden project is helping amputees rehabilitate after medical procedures keeping them physically and mentally active.

The Lambeth Community Care Centre in Monkton Street, Elephant and Castle, is home to the amputee rehabilitation unit which supports more than 100 amputee patients a year to get mobile and to learn the skills needed to live independently.

Tatiana Timon, 36, from Camberwell, had amputations to her legs below her knees and her arms below her elbows in June 2022.

The Lambeth Community Care Centre garden (Picture: Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust)

Ms Timon contracted malaria while on a holiday dance trip in Angola and became seriously ill after she returned to the UK. After being admitted to hospital she was placed in an induced coma for 4 weeks.

She said: “When I woke up I was so confused, there were so many feelings going through my head and I just couldn’t understand what had happened.

“I have always been active and enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, going to the gym four times a week. But my first passion is dancing. My life was a brilliant adventure and I loved it.

“My amputations meant I have had to go back to basics, learning how to walk again, how to feed myself and do things without fingers and hands.”

Ms Timon moved to the amputee rehabilitation unit in August 2022 and spent time in the garden as part of her six months of therapy and rehabilitation.

Patients are encouraged to move from their wheelchairs on to prosthetic limbs and take part in a range of gardening activities including sowing plants and herbs, preparing and reseeding the soil, watering and harvesting produce. These activities help people with reaching, standing and balance so they are able to adapt to environments outside of the unit.

The garden recently received the NHS Forest award for innovative development of green space at health sites.

Tatiana said: “The garden at the unit is a lifeline. Spending so long in a clinical environment takes its toll. Eventually, once my scars had healed I was able to learn how to hold and use garden tools without having hands.

“I enjoy looking after plants and watching them grow so having a beautiful garden to look out on to from our balconies helped lift my spirits and keep me going.

“To see how things change and plants, just like me, adapt to their environment and learn to survive in harsh conditions.

“The importance of the garden and the power of plants was also promoted by the counselling service, which provided me fresh lavender and mint grown in the garden. These herbs helped me physiologically to deal with pain and to sleep better.”

Gardener and rehabilitation assistant Joe Scoble uses his roles to help patients by running weekly gardening sessions.

Gardener and rehabilitation assistant Joe Scoble with Tatiana (Picture: Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust)

A trained landscape gardener, Joe said: “The patients often have their families over in the afternoon and it’s wonderful to see them showing people what they’ve sown that day and what they have managed to achieve.

“We do our best to use our produce in our occupational therapy breakfast and lunch sessions. Patients have the opportunity to cook their own food in their wheelchairs, which is very different from standing at the hob. We have used the produce to make pizzas, baked squash and pumpkins. We’ve also had tomatoes and we’ve made chutney in the past.”

Tatiana, who left the unit in February 2023, now lives in an accessible home with a small yard, where she uses the skills she learnt at the unit to grow plants and herbs in pots.

She said: “The amputee rehabilitation unit is an incredible place which helped me to reach my potential and part of that is thanks to the beautiful garden and the undeniable knowledge of Joe.”

Pictured top: Tatiana Timon, 36, from Camberwell had amputations to her legs below her knees and her arms below her elbows (Picture: Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust)

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