Browsing Tag

Community gardening

Vegetable Garden

Have we been selling the idea of gardening all wrong?

December 31, 2020

Are we selling the idea of gardening all wrong?

Have we been selling the idea of gardening all wrong?

I published my last article back in May when we were beginning to come out of our first COVID-19 lock-in, a surreal time for many. Back then we were hoping the global pandemic would be over in a few months. Our own youngsters were wistfully dreaming about the festivals and concerts due to take place during the autumn. A winter lock-in seemed inconceivable if we continued to be ‘good’ and mindful of one another. 

Have we been selling the idea of gardening all wrong?Instead, as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, we’re heading into our third ‘wave’ and another full Level 5 lock-in as cases continue to rise at alarming rates. Even with the promise of vaccines in sight, we’ve still a long way to go before life returns to anything resembling our old ‘normal’. For some, that might never happen given the trauma this pandemic has caused due to loss.

As we take a minute to reflect back over the past months before thinking of the future, one thing has become clear. Gardening and nature proved to be far more important to our health and well being than many had ever considered. 

When the pressures of long commutes were eased due to workplaces closing or relocating to home offices, we were able to spend more time outside during the glorious few weeks of an early summer. For those of us lucky enough to have garden spaces, or somewhere outdoors to stretch our legs within our allowed kilometre range, we were able to appreciate the positive benefits that nature provides. Our hearts went out to those unable to share these simple outdoor pleasures and some thought seriously about moving out of their urban apartments to seek greener pastures.



We no longer felt that gardening was a chore that had to be undertaken in the few, precious hours of our time off during evenings or weekends. We were able to enjoy the simple pleasures of working with our hands outdoors, or simply sit in the soft summer breeze, noticing dew drops on the grass or the way the sun lit up the leaves on silvery branches.

We were afforded the time to embrace the biophilia effect and it helped us all

According to biologist Edward O. Wilson’s hypothesis, ‘we are innately and emotionally attracted to other living organisms’ and when we love, or are attracted to others, our oxytocin  hormone is released, filling us with a sense of well being, relaxation and happiness.

Cooking and eating can have a similar effect, releasing endorphins that make us feel good. This has got me wondering over the years, have we been talking about gardening in the entirely wrong way when discussing our green fingered pleasures? Has the way we explain the needs of a garden been putting people off experiencing this magical healing for themselves? Are we self sabotaging our trade?

Have you noticed how celebratory chefs and cooks talk about food, unconsciously or not, beguiling us to want to try out new recipes or ingredients as we allow our imaginations to wander? Sometimes it's good just to be seduced by the particular cheeses spread out in front of you on a cheese counter. - Nigella Lawson

Perhaps we should be placing more emphasis on the outcomes of gardening rather than how we get there…

Rather than saying “let’s go out and plant a wildflower meadow because it’s good for biodiversity lets try rephrasing to “Sometimes it’s good just to be seduced by the particular wildflowers spread out in front of you on a lawn.”  Once it’s there the wildlife will follow.

It’s just a thought…

Thankfully, when Ireland began to open up again in June, gardening projects were recognised for their usefulness along with feelings of well being and healing, allowing those of us working in the industry to get back outside and share it’s pleasures. Hopefully over the coming months, more will be tempted to feel the softness of cool compost as they sow their first seeds and experience the pleasure of watching their young seedlings stretch out and grow as they nurture them.

A full gardening diary

It’s been a roller coaster year of emotions for us all. As I mentioned in the last blog post, I went from a full diary to an empty one overnight. This unexpectedly turned back to a full calendar of events as social, therapeutic and community gardening projects returned with more vigour than ever before.

Are we selling the idea of gardening all wrongForóige were one of my first clients to encourage members to get their hands dirty with their Just Grow project in County Waterford. Working with children under the new social distancing guidelines, summer camps were held where 11 and 12 year old’s were allowed to see one another again for the first time since March. This was followed by older teen camps in Ferrybank then a new community garden project in a direct provision centre in Tramore. Another community garden was created within Portlaw allotments, where several mum’s and grannies have been able to bring their autistic spectrum children along to join the fun and learning.

When community education opened up with the Kilkenny & Carlow Education Training Boards, adult coordinators were keen to get members back into gardens, with some of my old and new projects opening up at the Irish Wheelchair Association, Merchants Quay Ireland, SOS Kilkenny and Respond Housing. 

Have we been selling the idea of gardening all wrong?Disability groups were one of the last to return to their day centres, giving their carers a break and introducing a social element back into the lives of this often neglected community. Adapting to the new ‘normal’, I worked with Carlow County Development Partnership (CCDP) to provide online classes to two local centres. Interactive, online craft and growing sessions were provided, with up to four pods of people joining each zoom session again, giving people the opportunity to see friends they hadn’t connected with for some time during these practical, nature based sessions. It’s only right to  acknowledge that these classes wouldn’t have been possible without the support and help provided by the local care assistants within the centres. 

Finally, I’ve been able to put my new QQI Level 7 Landscape Design Certificate into practice for a really enjoyable community design project thanks to CCPD support. I was on the verge of quitting the Waterford IT course in April, feeling incredibly stressed by the sudden switch to online learning that none of us had quite mastered. Thankfully I didn’t and apart from everything else, now have a much greater empathy for students and educators having experienced both sides through these strange times.

Are we selling the idea of gardening all wrong?

Who knows what will happen next, how long this virus will stick around or how it will further affect our lives and livelihoods. If anything I’m learning about resilience. We’re immensely looking forward to seeing our UK based parents once more and hoping that everyone will stay healthy in the meantime. We’re treasuring the bonus time we’ve had with our three young adults at home this year. 

Moving forward I’ll be giving some thought about how I mention the jobs we need to do in our gardens, and instead of making them all about work, will be thinking more about the vision and how we get there. If you can help with any of those phrases, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

For now, I’d like to finish up 2020 by wishing wishing each and every one of you a very Happy and safe New Year and thank you for your continued support as I head into my twelfth year with Greenside Up. 

By it’s very nature, let’s look forward to 2021 with hearts full of hope, it’s what keeps most up us gardeners growing.

Dee x




Community Gardens, Food & Drink

A Recipe for Friendship

December 19, 2016

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Sharing Food

December is a time of year synonymous with friendship as we exchange cards, gifts, hugs and best wishes. Last week a group of community gardeners and stakeholders involved in  Gleann na Bearu garden in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow sat together and shared food. We were celebrating the achievements of the 11 people who had just completed a 12 week horticultural pilot programme I’ve been facilitating in the garden. I asked one of the community gardeners, Susan, if I could share the Kale and Spinach Soup recipe she made for the occasion using produce from the garden; you’ll find the recipe below.

Though the format was similar, this gardening course was different from others I’ve been involved with. It goes a step further in that the group will be undertaking three more modules in the New Year funded by Carlow County Development Partnership (CCDP), namely First Aid Responder, Manual Handling and Basic Machinery.  

All this basic training will combine to provide members of the group with a Certificate they will be able to present to future employers, giving the community gardeners a helping hand back to work if they ever need to use it. Their work experience is ongoing, albeit in a voluntary capacity in the community garden.

I wrote a case study about how this garden began and their progression over the last two years on the Community Gardens Ireland website, but as we were all reminded by Denis Shanahan from Respond during the end of year celebration, “it was due to the willingness of all the stakeholders to work together, that the garden and the people who meet in it were given the best support we could offer them.”

Carlow Youth Services, CCDP, Carlow/Kilkenny Education Training Board, Respond Housing and Carlow Council through Local Agenda 21, as well as Greenside Up have all put time, money and effort into this project and in a way, Susan’s soup was a marker for us all on its success to date.

Gleann na Bearu Community Garden Went Live on Facebook:

As we shared the homemade bread, buns and sandwiches provided by the other gardeners and listened to the short presentations from a couple more about what the course has meant for them (you can read Frances Micklem’s summary here on her Harmony Hall blog), Susan, who lives in the middle of this rural town and who is now officially our best garden soup maker, summed up what being a member of this community garden has meant for her:

“I didn’t know how to garden until I came here, I’d never seen vegetables growing, or knew what most of them were. I didn’t really know how to cook other than the basic ham, veg and potato dinners but now I’m cooking all sorts.”

Susan had also mentioned in the past that the garden is the only place she meets people other than online or in her immediate family circle.

Gleann na Bearu community garden is full of laughter, singing and fun as well as work and learning. My thoughts are that it’s due to the diversity of people who come together every week to learn and socialise in it. I should also mention that Susan made vegan blueberry buns recently to cater for one of our gardeners and she also participated in the Community Gardens Ireland Better Together video entry below. It’s not just the flowers I’ve watched blossom in that garden:

Kale and Spinach Soup Recipe

At a time of year when we need as much energy as we can muster, we hope you’ll cook, taste and share this soup recipe. Kale and Spinach are packed full of vitamins, fibre and minerals that will help keep our digestions healthy. Susan assured us all that even the non cabbage eaters in her home enjoyed it and the gardening group can confirm, it was delicious! Apart from the ginger and coriander, all the ingredients listed below were grown in the community garden this year, making it an almost free meal for up to 20 people.

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Susan – Photo Credit: Esther Hawe

Susan’s kale and spinach soup ~ serving 20 people

6 bunches of kale
6 bunches of spinach
3 onions
2 leeks
1 bunch of parsley
2 kg potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp coriander
4 vegetable stock cubes in about 3 ltrs of boiling water (enough to cover the vegetables)


Chop your onions and garlic and lightly fry them do not let them go brown.

Add your chopped up kale spinach and potatoes along with your seasoning and cover with your vegetables stock which you make using your stock cubes and water.

Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked.

Using a hand blender blend your vegetables to make a smooth soup and serve and enjoy.

Community Gardens

Community Gardening - A Recipe for Friendship

Creating Friendships – Photo Credit: Esther Hawe

Community gardening is so much more than planting a few veggies, digging or making compost. There are jobs for everyone and you can usually chose the one you like the best; the enjoyment one might get from digging can often be offset by the pleasure another gets from weeding. Community gardening is about friendship and sharing, it’s about empowering people, learning about food and the environment, biodiversity and working alongside others; it’s about supporting one another and inclusiveness. It’s as much about creating a community as it is about gardening.

If you’d like to learn more about community gardening or are looking for a community garden speaker, consultant or tutor in Ireland, contact me for further information. Let’s get community gardens growing everywhere.

Lets make 2017 the year that everybody hears about community gardening in Irealnd!

Community Gardens

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

June 26, 2016

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Growing vegetables, fruit and herbs in small spacesI published an article a couple of years ago with 14 varieties of fruit and vegetables that suit smaller gardens, as well as another giving detailed information about container growing, also helpful if you’re growing on a balcony. The varieties might include tumbling container tomatoes or cut and come again salad leaves, strawberries or in slightly larger containers, leafy kale instead of whole cabbage.

We’ve practiced growing vegetables in small spaces in several community gardens over the years but in Gleann na Bearu, a community garden in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow with an overall space of 14m x 8m, we’re hoping it will give visitors and participants ideas they can replicate at home.

Growing plants in tyres

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Last year almost all the growing in the garden took place in old tyres happily donated by the local tyre shop. The teenagers from the youth club painted them with donated paint (and anything else that didn’t move). We then lined the tyres to protect them from the rubber with weed membrane, then filled them with multipurpose compost and added the plants where they flourished. You can grow almost all vegetables in containers once they’re large enough and have drainage. 

When the tyres were stacked three or four high to give the displays interest and save on soil, we filled them to around two-thirds deep with empty plastic bottles before adding the weed membrane, compost and plants. This worked very well and gave us another opportunity to talk about recycling and waste.

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Gleann na Bearu Community Garden early June 2016

Raised beds

Over the winter months we added raised beds to the garden design, some large, some small, which helps to give visual ideas for people who want less of a upcycled look in their own gardens. These are very easy to work at and have helped ease childhood memories of stone picking out in the fields where their parents grew vegetables. The volunteers are instead discovering that growing food in raised beds is productive, they look tidy, are low maintenance and can be relaxing as the group work away outside.

Growing food in small spaces

Vertical Pallet Planters

This year we’ve started to think vertically. Mr G took apart a single pallet and rebuilt it into a vertical wall planter that for the moment we’ve added bedding plants to, grown by the community gardeners. Next year it might house salads, strawberries or herbs alongside more vertical neighbours.

I would love to share with you how Ian made the vertical planter pictured but every pallet is different so it really depends upon what you’re faced with. To make a planter like this one, the trick for anyone with woodworking skills is to assess the pallet they have in front of them and only remove the pieces of wood that are absolutely necessary.

Growing Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit in Small SpacesPallets aren’t easy to dismantle due to their curved nails so the less they’re messed around with the better. In this example Ian cut the pallet completely in half, leaving the top (the back) in one piece. He then used the pieces he’d removed to fill in the sides and make shelf planters in the front. Weed proof membrane was then stapled into each planting area before adding multipurpose compost and the plants.

Pictures speak louder than words so zoom into the photos if you can for a better look.

On another wall in the community garden tyres have been hung up, colourfully painted and planted, having had drainage holes drilled into them first.

Growing food in small spacesVery soon we’ll be adding a small, safe pond to the garden that we hope will attract beneficial wildlife and insects. I need to research whether we can grow watercress for another edible addition to the garden; I’ll share with you how we get on with that project soon.

The Gleann na Bearu community gardening project has been a real joy to work with and more details about how it begin and the different funding streams its attracted can be found on the Community Gardens Ireland website where the garden featured as an In Focus article recently.

We’ll be continuing to stretch our imaginations in this garden, giving people ideas for growing food in small spaces or using recycled materials.

If you have any tips or suggestions we’d love to hear about them.



Blogging, Friends and the Future of Greenside Up

October 25, 2015

Blogging and Friends

I began blogging almost six years ago and the experience has brought me on an amazing journey. I’ve made some special friends, met a tremendous amount of talented people and learnt even more from them all.

Blog Awards

Bronze Winner of Blog AwardsOn Thursday I received a message letting me know that the Greenside Up blog had achieved a Bronze Award for Health and Wellbeing at the Blog Awards Ireland, an honour and one I’m thankful for given that there were over 4,000 nominations, 1,800 entries and over 80,000 public votes for all the blogs.

Greenside Up Blog

The blogging scene has changed completely since I began writing and so has my blog. After its last big win, I spend a lot of time working on its layout to help you find articles and as a result, the blog has grown to encompass several categories in areas that reached out and enticed me once we begin to grow our own food.

From becoming more environmentally aware, learning about different food crops – both vegetable and animal – my involvement with community gardening, as well as sharing the ongoing love of the mountains, gardens and rivers that surround us here in Ireland; I try to give you a glimpse of an alternative life that isn’t dominated by a work to TV and sofa lifestyle. It’s difficult to measure how rich our lives have become since we embraced a more wholesome lifestyle, but as I scroll back over the posts I can’t help but notice how they’ve become a log of our ongoing quest to become more self-sufficient. From the beekeeping and pig rearing, hens and vegetables to the passion that’s grown to want to help others become more aware of nature and food from its source through community gardening.

I’ve always loved to write and blogging has enabled me to do that and I hope that even in the smallest way, it might have helped to inspire you to make, grow or visit something or somewhere yourself.

Apart from becoming an online and very public diary, blogging has enabled me to share other people’s stories.

Local Radio

Blogging and FriendsOn Friday morning I was invited to a bloggers breakfast for the start of the Savour Kilkenny food festival at Anne Neary’s beautiful 17th century cookery school at Ryeland House in Cuffesgrange. The table was heaving with produce Anne and her friends had made for the local KCLR breakfast.

It was a lovely surprise to meet up with fellow blogging friends I’ve met during the years who also care passionately about the importance of good quality, locally produced food. They too understand that strong communities will help us all to become more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges that climate change is likely to throw at us.

Blogging and Friends

Susan (Vibrant Ireland) and Frances (The Honest Project) helping to highlight Savour Kilkenny


Community GardeningDuring the morning I was able to talk on local radio about An Gairdin Beo, the new Carlow community garden I’m volunteering with and later that evening I was talking to Martha Bolger on Kilkenny Community Radio.

There I was able to share my story with listeners about how I begin tutoring, how the first community garden I worked with in Goresbridge developed to become a beautiful food garden and how the new garden project I’m working with in Glenn na Bearú in Bagenalstown is growing.

It’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to tell these stories without the Greenside Up blog.

So many of us share a desire to make the world a better place and our time spent in writing, tweeting, broadcasting and photographing is usually given up for free, often at a cost to ourselves, in the hope that we can help to spread the word, share the news that real food produced by passionate people is worth the extra cent.

As I become even more involved with community garden projects, I’m not certain which direction the blog will take over the next few months. If there’s an area that I write about that you’d particularly like to read or learn more from, please let me know.

In the meantime, a huge thank you for your ongoing and continued support which is tremendously appreciated and a happy and peaceful Halloween week to you all.

Community Gardens

How to involve the community in a community garden

June 20, 2014

How to involve the community in a community garden

There are no set rules about what makes a community garden work. Each one is unique and just like other areas in life, there are some that gel and some that don’t. However, some gardens we come across seem to encompass all the good things we’d expect and hope for in a shared space and the latest one I’ve found that’s ticking all the community boxes is in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

How to involve the community in a community gardenHow to involve the community in a community gardenRecently I met Mary Carmody, the enthusiastic nun who was instrumental in establishing this rural garden in 2005 and who generously spent a couple of hours out of her busy schedule showing me around, sharing the Tearmann Community Garden story.

This pretty little 2 acre garden that belongs to the local Parish and is situated just a short walk from the town High Street. It’s been reclaimed from its previously overgrown state and thoughtfully divided into several areas, catering for the needs of many in the community with it’s meeting space, greenhouses, many growing and contemplative areas and resident chickens 

How to involve the community in a community gardenAt the far end of the site below the overlooking hill, is a biodiversity area that bar some native tree planting, is undeveloped and has been allowed to grow as nature intended. Every year a biodiversity census takes place there, taking stock of the species that inhabit it.

From there, a meandering pathway lined with young trees leads visitors to a quiet, contemplative area – the perfect place to sit alone or in a meditative group and enjoy the tranquility the garden offers.

On either side of the walk , depending upon which way you wander around, is a very shallow wild, boggy area that attracts the newts and frogs and on the other side, a newly developed and very tidy fruit area, netted and wired, saving the fruit from the birds and allowing for easier picking.

How to involve the community in a community gardenFinally, at the garden entrance, is a fox proof hen enclosure, a cabin with a kitchenette and seating area, three small greenhouses and all the raised beds that the community share.

How to involve the community in a community gardenAlthough there is a communal garden where people come together and share the work and the produce, all other beds in the garden have been freely allocated to different groups following consultation with the ten member committee, and each one is clearly labelled to avoid disputes.

As a result many people from the community, including two primary schools, the secondary school transition year, two pre-schools, the local scout group, Men’s Sheds, the KAIRE centre for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, the local Foroige group, the active retired as well as a few individual, are all sharing and working in the garden on a regular basis.

How to involve the community in a community gardenSome areas are more productive than others but the emphasis is on giving everyone in the community the opportunity to grow food and not on getting hung up about whether it’s being done text-book correctly. 

As well as gardening activities and courses similar to the ones I offer in Carlow and Kilkenny, various other informal training initiatives have taken place in the garden, including cloth dying, herbal remedies and foraging.

How to involve the community in a community gardenWhilst the gardeners share much of the produce, on days throughout the year vegetables are sold at the local country market. From June onwards they have plant sales and last year the transition year students set up a vegetable box scheme as part of their mini enterprise project. The fourth year students also made several of the unusual scarecrows that are dotted around the garden.

One of the enjoyable aspects of being involved with the community garden network is learning and finding ideas from other gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I found this particular garden in Baltinglass quite inspirational in the way if opens its gates wide and welcomes groups of all size and ages.

How to involve the community in a community garden



What do you think? Is this something you could see working in your own community? Do you or have you already tried operating something similar and did it work for you? 

Community Gardens

How to Encourage People to Join Your Community or Urban Garden

May 22, 2014

Over the past few years several people have contacted me asking how to start a community or urban garden. They have the land and they’re keen to create a garden that will benefit everyone in the local area. Although it’s best to start with the people as you can guarantee  an enthusiastic working group, it’s not impossible to begin the project with the land first.

Summer 2012 Leighlin Parish Community Garden

Summer 2012 Leighlin Parish Community Garden

You will however, need to gauge if there’s an interest in community gardening in your area. I’ve written a post in the past with tips on how to start a community garden but here’s a few more ideas on ways to attract attention:

  • Hold a public information meeting where you can share your ideas.
  • Put up flyers in shop windows and pin them to telegraph poles.
  • Contact your local newspaper and/or radio station and enlist their help.
  • Contact the department in your local council that looks after local community.
  • Hand our leaflets to parents waiting for their children at school gates or sports fields.
  • Have a targeted Facebook campaign inviting people to learn more or meet up.

Open morning at Leighlin Parish Community GardenSome gardens manage to attract lots of people without any problem at all but if you have a garden up and running and have found the numbers have tailed off you could try:

  • Holding an open morning inviting people to drop in.
  • Have a plant sale that highlights what you’re growing in the garden.
  • Invite different groups in for a gardening session such as active retired, local schools, scout groups or nursery schools.
  • Offer training, accredited or otherwise (contact your local ETB (was VEC) to enquire about funding a tutor.

The more options you give people for hearing about your community or urban garden project, proposed or current, the better. Not everyone reads the local notes or parish newsletter so if you only advertise in these two publications, you’ll miss a lot of people.

Focus on Leighlin Parish Community Garden, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow

Community Garden Workshops

A good way to attract people to new or existing community gardens is to offer learning opportunities. Whilst folk might like the idea of growing their own vegetables they might not know how to begin or they might feel they don’t know enough to join a group.

Just like many other activities, community gardeners come in all shapes and sizes from beginners to more experienced and they’re a friendly, welcoming bunch by nature who are willing to share their knowledge. A beginners course held in the garden will introduce new people to the resident gardeners, lessening any shyness.

Outdoor Oven in a Community GardenOther ideas for workshops and courses might include cob oven building, willow workshops, basic landscaping, stone building, rainwater harvesting or even a basic cookery course using the produce.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden

The Community Garden in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow is currently addressing the issue of attracting more gardeners. It’s such a pretty garden in one of the most picturesque villages in Ireland it’s been a delight to be involved with it.

Fr Lalor offered part of his garden to host the new venture and work began in a cold in February 2012. Through sheer hard work and determination, the community garden came together quickly and amazed everyone who attended the weekly meetings just how fast a garden can take shape. A couple of the original members who’d signed up fell by the wayside as other activities took their time away but the group continued on and worked in rain, hail and sunshine to pull the garden together. Within a few months the community garden had turned from a lawn into a productive and pretty vegetable garden and since then has settled into a group of around half a dozen men and women that meet every Friday morning for two hours and potter away.

Leighlin Parish Community Garden is large, with around 300m² of space and has a dozen vegetable beds, herb and flower beds as well as polytunnel that was bought with support from the local area. It has room for lots more people to join in. To attract more gardeners to the group this year, the organisers contacted the local ETB (I’m on their registered tutors list) and brought me in as a gardening tutor to work with a new group for six weeks, teaching them the basics of how to grow their own vegetables in the hope that some participants will stay on afterwards, working alongside and socialising with the original community gardeners.

It may be that a Friday morning doesn’t suit the majority of the villagers if they’re working or have very young children, or that perhaps people still don’t quite understand what a community garden is exactly, so it may take a few different approaches to attract new members. In the meantime, the original group are thoroughly enjoying the peace, socialising opportunity and harvest the large garden is providing them with and the new garden workshop participants have a beautiful place to learn new skills.

Have you any tips or ideas how to attract people to a group you’re involved with that might be low in numbers? We’d love to hear about them.

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 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.

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

Community Gardens

How To Create A Successful Community / Workplace Garden

April 15, 2014

Focus On: Callan Community Garden, Co Kilkenny

pea supports

One of the benefits of working in a group environment such as a community garden is the amount of experience and knowledge we gain working alongside one other, as well as learning how to get the most from each other’s strengths by working in a team. This is relevant to both community and work place gardens.

I’ve written some guidelines that you can refer to if you’re wondering what a community garden is or how to set one up, but if you’re already involved with a community garden and wondering how to get the best from it, Callan’s story might be of help to you.

Autumn Prep at Callan Community GardenCallan community garden is situated at the back of the old Friary which is now the Droichead Family Resource Centre, a network of centres that were created with community and social inclusion as key elements of their ethos.

For the past 18 months I’ve been funded by Kilkenny Leader Partnership to work with the group of gardeners, helping them to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as create an awareness of local food produce and it’s importance in the local economy. This project has also enabled us to create an opportunity for progressive development and sustainability by creating a mini enterprise.

Small Garden at Droichead Family Resource CentreMeeting for a couple of hours each week, we began in the autumn of 2012 with a short, basic theory led course where gardeners were introduced to vegetable families, crop rotation, soil requirements, the myriad of seed choices as well as the importance of incorporating wildlife into our gardens.

This gave the group a taster of the practical work that would follow in the more garden friendly months and in the spring of 2013, we started work outside on the very small space allocated to us.

At that time the garden and polytunnel were divided between several groups, including local transition year students and a FETAC accredited BTEI (Back to Education) course. As the summer holidays approached, the school and horticulture groups finished and the community gardeners began to mind the entire garden. This change inspired a blog post suggesting that schools might be the ideal and natural partners for hosting community gardens, ensuring that produce is cared for and minded throughout the year.

New gardeners learn about seeds guided by the more experienced

A new gardener with the group learns about seed sowing as the more experienced members encouragingly watch on

In the autumn we spent less time weeding and sowing and more time cooking and preserving, as well as learning about selling and marketing an artisan food product. During that time I was able to work alongside the group, preparing pickles and chutneys from produce we’d grown from seed. Once labelled, over a 100 jars were taken to the three-day Savour Kilkenny Food Festival where they were proudly showcased and sold by the Callan and Goresbridge gardeners who’d helped to create them..

Kilkenny Community Gardens Pickles & Preserves

Kilkenny Community Garden Network Pickles & Preserves

The mini enterprise was a success in many ways as the gardeners were able to take part and see, first hand, everything involved in setting up and operating a small, local business. The money raised will help to fund further development projects planned for the garden..

The activity also allowed the gardeners to come to the decision that they much preferred to grow the vegetables and give them to friends and not to sell them! It wasn’t a process they all enjoyed and the group have a new respect for those that do it to make a full-time living. They also have an understanding why small business’ have to charge realistic prices based on time and quality of ingredients. As a result and following discussions with Olive Maher, the forward thinking manager of the resource centre, over the coming months we’ll be trying a different approach with the garden.

Gardeners learn about recycling & gardening

Gardeners learn about recycling & gardening

Plans have been made to build more high raised beds that can accommodate people with movement difficulties and due to the extra growing space, will enable the centre to run very relevant and beneficial workshops for the community, using the garden as the hub.

Dee Sewell at Callan Community Garden

Dee : Photo Credit Catherine Drea

A basic budget cookery course is being planned that will use seasonal produce grown and harvested from the garden, as the core ingredients.

The feasibility of running a basic landscaping course, perhaps with some stonework, where participants will learn to make a seating area and outside barbecue/cooking area is also being considered.

The Family Resource Centre also plan to run a separate mini enterprise course for local people, again using produce grown in the garden.

These courses will be available to everyone in the local community at very reduced rates and the gardeners will have a choice on whether they wish to attend them or just continue working together in the garden and providing fresh produce for them. Lastly and perhaps most importantly in a community, the centre are planning a summer party for everyone who visits, volunteers or learns there and I will be working with the community gardeners to provide as much food as we can for that.

There are no hard and fast rules about community gardens – each one is unique. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how to get the most from your garden and sometimes you have to adapt and change original plans, as in the case above.

Callan Community GardenCommunity gardens are however, excellent social levellers, creating excellent opportunities for people to integrate, interact, learn, work alongside one another and share; skills that are sometimes overlooked but are so necessary in functioning communities, workplaces, home and society in general.

If you’re interested in finding out more about community gardening and how it might help you, your community or workplace, contact me here for more information.