Community Gardens

Supporting Mental Health Needs with Horticulture

May 18, 2014

I’ve written a few posts sharing how mentally healing I’ve found spending time in gardens and soaking up everything nature has to offer. I was therefore pleased to discover that this weekend, Sonairte in Co Meath, Ireland’s National Centre of Ecology, would be hosting a training session for anyone interested in learning more about providing Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) for people with mental health support needs.

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

Tranquil gardens at Sonaitre

For the past few years I’ve worked with adults with intellectual disabilities offering a form of horticultural therapy and last week I finished a course with a branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association helping adults to grow food in recycled containers. Amongst others, I’m working with long-term unemployed, older people living alone and rurally isolated adults in community gardens around Carlow and Kilkenny.

I know I’m not alone in Ireland providing a horticulture service to a diverse range of people who might suffer withΒ mental health issues from mild anxiety to depression, to more profound forms of mental health problems, yet unlike our UK neighbours there’s very little support available to us in this recognised and measurable from of therapy.

I sincerely hope that will change as the excellent training the group of occupational therapists and horticulture practitioners received this weekend, opened our eyes to the tangible mental health benefits that simply being or working in a garden can bring.Β The knowledge we’ve gained will begin to help us offer and better understand the practical elements of putting together a programme centred around people and not purely the needs of the garden. Damien Newman of Thrive, a UK charity that “champions the benefits of gardening, carrying out research, training professionals and offering practical solutions so that anyone with a disability can enjoy gardening”, delivered an excellent course that’s given us a lot to think about.

Sonaitre gardenHorticulture therapy for mental health isn’t a new phenomena. *In ancient Egypt royal physicians prescribed “a spell in the palace gardens for those troubled of mind” and in 1856 Dorset County Asylum wrote that “male patients shall be employed in gardening and husbandry… to promote cheerfulness and happiness.”

Having completed the second stage of learning, our group now have a year to decide whether we individually wish to take on an eight week distance course via Thrive and Coventry University in an undergraduate module leading us to an Award in STH, a project I’m planning to begin during the quieter time of my gardening year.

Sonaitre gardenIf you’re interested in learning more about Social and Horticulture Therapy in Ireland, contact Veronica Macfarlane of Sonairte for more information on future courses or check out Thrive in the UK directly who run a range of course options as well as gardens to visit, a library full of information that can support social and horticultural therapy students and practitioners, as well as professionals on hand to offer advice and information in general.

Have you noticed how spending a couple of hours outdoors can improve your mood and feelings of general well-being?

 

*source Thrive UK

12 Comments

  • Reply Lorna May 18, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve been doing research on this recently (more on outdoor exercise than gardening but similar) for work with a client and yes, the research really shows that being outside in the fresh air exercising or gardening has incredible benefits for mental and physical health – even for those experiencing pain, it has been proved to reduce pain.
    It’s great to think that gardens can be designed in a way that make them accessible to everyone, no matter what the disability.

    • Reply greensideupveg May 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      A lot of research has taken place Lorna that proves the healing goes beyond just getting fresh air. For instance even looking at photos of nature make us feel better than looking at concrete jungles. You referred to a quote in one of your blog posts recently – it’s not what you said its how you made me feel – horticulture therapy makes people feel better. It looks at the desired outcome for the individual – whether that’s to feel more confident, to help with bereavement, pain, whatever and it creates a garden/nature programme based on that. Usually we plan programmes based on the needs of the gardens. Outdoor exercise is a double bonus and I know from bootcamp, much more fun to be working out in a field than an enclosed indoor space. Damien referred to studies showing we’re more likely to eat well after exercise outdoors than in too.

  • Reply Maura Clarke May 18, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    I’ve just completed a Horticultural Therapy module as part of my 3rd year doing a BSc in Horticulture in WIT and Kildalton college and it really confirmed to me what I already knew but as you so rightly say its about changing the mind set form the needs of the garden to the needs of the client or client group. It is classed here as ‘a new idea’ although its been used here for years on many different levels, most people who enjoy gardening use it as a form of therapy without them even realising it. I too hope that it does become a recognised form of therapy with the sufficient support like there is in the UK and the US and some day there will be training courses available here too. A wonderful form of therapy for the mind, body and soul – sounds a bit hippy dippy but that’s just the way it makes me feel.
    Best of luck with the STH course.

    • Reply greensideupveg May 18, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      Maura thanks for the comment and good to hear that Horticulture Therapy is being covered in the degree course and yes, I agree, it’s something many of us know and have been doing without even realising it and much of what I learnt over the weekend could relate to in the community gardens. A good group of people attended the course at the weekend and are keen to keep in touch and perhaps create a network which could be the start of something more, let’s hope so!

  • Reply Supporting Mental Health Needs with Horticultur... May 18, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    […] "Posted on May 18, 2014I’ve written a few posts sharing how mentally healing I’ve found spending time in gardensand soaking up everything nature has to offer. I was therefore pleased to discover that this weekend, Sonairte in Co Meath, Ireland’s National Centre of Ecology, would be hosting a training session for anyone interested in learning more about providing Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) for people with mental health support needs.Tranquil gardens at SonaitreFor the past few years I’ve worked with adults with intellectual disabilities offering a form of horticultural therapy and last week I finished a course with a branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association helping adults to grow food in recycled containers. Amongst others, I’m working with long-term unemployed, older people living alone and rurally isolated adults in community gardens around Carlow and Kilkenny.I know I’m not alone in Ireland providing a horticulture service to a diverse range of people who might suffer with mental health issues from mild anxiety to depression, to more profound forms of mental health problems, yet unlike our UK neighbours there’s very little support available to us in this recognised and measurable from of therapy.I sincerely hope that will change as the excellent training the group of occupational therapists and horticulture practitioners received this weekend, opened our eyes to the tangible mental health benefits that simply being or working in a garden can bring. The knowledge we’ve gained will begin to help us offer and better understand the practical elements of putting together a programme centred around people and not purely the needs of the garden. Damien Newman of Thrive, a UK charity that “champions the benefits of gardening, carrying out research, training professionals and offering practical solutions so that anyone with a disability can enjoy gardening”, delivered an excellent course that’s given us a lot to think about.Horticulture therapy for mental health isn’t a new phenomena. *In ancient Egypt royal physicians prescribed “a spell in the palace gardens for those troubled of mind” and in 1856 Dorset County Asylum wrote that “male patients shall be employed in gardening and husbandry… to promote cheerfulness and happiness.”Having completed the second stage of learning, our group now have a year to decide whether we individually wish to take on an eight week distance course via Thrive and Coventry University in an undergraduate module leading us to an Award in STH, a project I’m planning to begin during the quieter time of my gardening year.If you’re interested in learning more about Social and Horticulture Therapy in Ireland,contact Veronica Macfarlane of Sonairte for more information on future courses or check out Thrive in the UK directly who run a range of course options as well as gardens to visit, a library full of information that can support social and horticultural therapy students and practitioners, as well as professionals on hand to offer advice and information in general.Have you noticed how spending a couple of hours outdoors can improve your mood and feelings of general well-being? *source Thrive UK"  […]

  • Reply Maura Clarke May 18, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    That’s fantastic and much needed, I hope it does too.

  • Reply Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC) May 20, 2014 at 4:02 am

    The gardens look so gorgeous – I feel calm and peaceful just looking at these images. I have always found being in nature healing and it is so good to know that more attention is being paid to putting practices in place to educate more people about the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

    • Reply greensideupveg May 20, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      It was so serene there Marie, mostly I think because it was so natural and hadn’t been weeded in the flower borders, it gave the gardens such a soft focus. Hopefully we’ll hear more over the coming months πŸ™‚

  • Reply Joanne butler June 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Great article – I think that as community gardeners we should take care of the physical and the mental health of participants – in nearly every course I facilitate there are people involved with mental health issues and I certainly would like to gain more of an understanding to be able to help them – gardening is one of the best ways to reach all areas of the body and the mind !

    • Reply greensideupveg June 2, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you. It’s good to hear that so many are interested in this Joanne, fingers crossed something comes of it.

  • Reply natascha telford June 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Great stuff! I’m a community garden tutor and a social farmer based in Sligo / leitrim. Some of the garden include the mental health hospital, homeless hostels, and asylum seekers hostels. Would love to do course. I don’t really want to travel to UK though. A course available in Ireland is well needed.

    • Reply greensideupveg June 2, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Excellent Natascha, good to hear you’re involved in similar projects. The trip abroad puts the learning out of reach for many of us, let’s hope something comes off the relationship between Thrive and Sonairte.

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