Roots to Recovery

A brand new and invaluable service, providing horticultural therapy to military servicemen and women as part of their recovery and rehabilitation, will soon be putting down roots at Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey.

The innovative project, generously funded by ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the Westminster Foundation, is led by the recently launched charity HighGround and will see the appointment of a horticultural therapist, embedded in the team of occupational therapists at Headley Court.

Recruitment is now under way and the person who takes up this post in September will need to have a very special combination of skills. To achieve their aims, horticultural therapists need to be not only good gardeners, but even better ‘people’s people’.

Anna Baker Cresswell, the charity’s founder and development director, said, “I am very, very proud that HighGround is going to be providing this service. To be asked to establish horticultural therapy at Headley Court is a huge privilege and the fulfilment of a long-held ambition.”

HighGround ( is a registered charity, based in London. In addition to providing horticultural therapists for military establishments, it will also offer advice and opportunities for service leavers, reservists and veterans about jobs and careers in the land-based sector. This will include farming, forestry, conservation and landscape design, using the new concept of ‘experience weeks’.

Anna, who lives in Northumberland, was inspired to set up this new charity following the success of the Gardening Leave charity she established in 2007 in memory of her mother Valerie, a Nightingale Nurse and passionate gardener.

Anna also says, “I had a friend who served in the Falklands and although he came back, he wasn’t the same and I didn’t understand why.”

“After my mother died in 2004, I decided to find out more about the challenges returning servicemen and women encounter in civvy street and Gardening Leave was the result.

“In many ways, HighGround is a natural progression from this, as horticultural therapy is increasingly recognised as playing an important role in helping to improve health and wellbeing and to restore confidence as part of the long term rehabilitation and recovery process. It can be defined as ‘the use of plants by a trained professional as a medium through which certain clinically-defined goals can be met’ and horticultural therapists need to be very special people.”

Horticultural Therapy has been widely used in the US since Vietnam and although progress in the UK has been slower, John Cliff, co-founder of the Association of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Practitioners ( said, “It is fantastic to see the greater use and acceptance of horticultural therapy as part of a multi-disciplinary approach in such a prestigious setting as Headley Court.”

For more information about the position at Headley Court, please visit

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