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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jason Stevens the Chief Executive Officer at Veterans’ Growth Charity

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.

Please follow our new journey on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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

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