Gardeners’ Question Time event in Norwich to help a nurse in the Holy Land

The Tree of Hope, by Suffolk sculptor Mark Coreth, stands in the garden of the Muristan Clinic in Je

The Tree of Hope, by Suffolk sculptor Mark Coreth, stands in the garden of the Muristan Clinic in Jerusalem - Credit: supplied

Gardeners can quiz experts, and raise money for St John Ambulance, at a gala Gardeners' Question Time evening in Norwich on Thursday, May 11

Marlene Katanasho at the Jerusalem clinic. Picture: submitted

Marlene Katanasho at the Jerusalem clinic. Picture: submitted - Credit: submitted

The lawns, lakes and flowers of some of the loveliest gardens in Norfolk are helping a nurse care for the poor of Jerusalem.

Marlene Katansho was just 19 when she became one of the first students in a school of nursing run by the Order of St John. Today she is in charge of a new eye clinic in the heart of her home city of Jerusalem.

Helped by money raised at charity open garden days across Norfolk, she trained at a university in Bethlehem and then specialised in ophthalmic nursing, treating people with eye conditions.

Today Marlene runs the new Muristan Clinic, in central Jerusalem. 'I am one of the luckiest people in the hospital as St John Norfolk sponsors me and have been there for me since my very first days as a student,' said the Palestinian nurse, who has been working for St John for more than 20 years.

Last year St John Norfolk raised £8,000 for their Norfolk nurse and the Jerusalem Eye Hospital; this weekend the charity is staging a Gardeners' Question Time event. Marlene was due to take part in the evening, on Thursday, May 11, to talk about her work and thank those who have supported her but has been refused a visa.

The vital fundraising evening will go ahead but Marlene's planned trips to meet St John Ambulance cadets and take fact-finding tours around the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind headquarters and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital have had to be cancelled.

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Marlene, whose favourite plant is lavender, is also sad not to be able to visit any of Norfolk gardeners who have raised money for her, but hopes to get the chance to see them one day. 'Unfortunately I don't have a garden but if I did, I would plant all kinds of flowers,' she said.

She is very grateful for the support of St John Ambulance, Norfolk and said: 'When I got my job at St John I felt incredibly lucky. It was recommended to me by my friends who had studied there.

'My new position as Muristan coordinator is truly a dream come true for me. I come from the Old City, so I am now helping to treat my friends and neighbours. People living here so appreciate having the clinic so close to their homes, shops and schools and many have complimented me on the beautiful transformation the building has had in the past year.'

Built alongside the huge church which covers the area where Christians believe Jesus died, and then rose again, the new clinic is on the site of an ancient hospital. By the 12th century the Knights of St John were caring for sick and injured pilgrims of all faiths here. These soldier monks founded the Order of St John and their tradition of caring for all who came to their door is still followed today by the Muristan Clinic and the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group, which treats all patients, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or ability to pay.

And as well as the vital medical facilities for eye checks and treatment the new Muristan Clinic has a tranquil garden, an oasis of peace in a cramped and crowded city.

'Other than the vital role of running the clinic and treating our patients, I'm also really enjoying playing tour guide to the many tourists who visit our new Muristan Peace Garden and Museum,' said Marlene. 'As a local it's great fun to show off my beautiful home, and as a member of the St John family I am proud to show off the fantastic work that we do.'

Georgina Holloway, president of St John Ambulance, Norfolk, said: 'It provides this amazing service to people of all races and religions. And because of its connections with St John, optical surgeons come from around the world and give their time for free. People are living under tough conditions, and it is an incredibly calm and organised place in a city where there is a lot going on, a lot of it quite chaotic. They are doing this amazing work and are so grateful to everyone who funds it.' She added: 'We are very privileged in Norfolk to have a representative of the Eye Hospital here, Colonel Nicholas Barne.'

People across Norfolk open their gardens in aid of St John Ambulance, and on alternate years the money goes to support Marlene's work in Jerusalem, where the eye hospital is run by the Order of St John, the overarching organisation for both the hospital in Jerusalem and the first aid experts in Britain.

This year they will be raising money to fund a logistics vehicle to carry equipment to big events across Norfolk where St John's provides first aid cover.

Georgina Holloway, president of St John Ambulance, Norfolk, will be opening her own garden, at the Old Rectory, Whissonsett, in aid of St John Ambulance next Sunday, May 14, from noon-5pm.

Gardeners' Question Time

The Gardeners' Question Time evening, to support the work of St John Norfolk nurse Marlene Katansho, will be held at Open, Bank Plain, Norwich, beginning at 6.15pm on Thursday, May 11, with a drinks reception. It will be introduced by Richard Jewson, Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, who is also president of the Norfolk County Priory Group of St John Ambulance, and then experts will answer gardening questions from the audience.

The panellists are Simon White who has worked for Peter Beales Roses for the past 36 years, lectures around the country and is vice president of the Norfolk and Norwich Horticultural Society; Ian Roofe who runs the Flower and Garden show at the Royal Norfolk Show, writes gardening columns and advises many flower clubs and societies as well as Radio Norfolk listeners; Trevor Harrison who runs Creake Plant Centre and leads garden tours to Cornwall and Madeira; and Bridget Diggens who began gardening at the age of six and now works in design, management and maintenance specialising in plants for a purpose, all practical aspects of gardening and working with nature.

Tickets are available from Georgina Holloway, president of St John Ambulance Norfolk, for a suggested donation of £20, by calling

07767 327257 or emailing

Tree of Hope

Suffolk sculptor Mark Coreth has created The Tree of Hope for the garden of the Muristan Clinic.

An internationally acclaimed artist, he made the life-size sculpture of the horse Frankel which stands at Royal

Ascot and his work is owned by national museums and galleries and members of the royal family.

Mark designed the tree for the site right at the heart of the religious world, venerated by Christians, Muslims and Jews, and donated it to the new clinic. Inspired by ancient olive trees and swifts, which migrate through the Holy Land from Africa to Europe and Asia, the sculpture symbolises life and hope. Bronze swifts form the leaf canopy and Mark also placed the birds in groupings of three, representing the three faiths of Jerusalem, around the clinic. He hopes to add more swifts to St John buildings around the world – and to raise more funds for the St John Eye Hospital by selling these messengers of hope from the Holy Land.

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