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Horticultural therapy

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


We all need a bit of horticultural therapy…

April 21, 2011
It quietens the mind, it soothes the soul, and it exercises the body.
Its grounding. Watching plants grow, leaves opening and reaching for the light, roots’ anchoring to the soil… it’s calming.
It’s impossible not to feel at peace listening to the birds singing, watching the insects rushing around, busying themselves, feeling the breeze upon the skin.
When the sun shines in the garden everyone is happy. The dogs flop out, the children play quietly, the cattle quietly munch away at the grass. Even the hens are quiet, nestling down in the dust.
Today was a catching up day and I can now relax, content with a days work done, until the weeds grow back and more seeds need planting.
Today I used my spanking new propagating bench that Mr G has been busying working on and basked in the 40ºC heat of the polytunnel.
Seedlings were potted onto larger pots, new seeds were sown, tomatoes and peppers were planted, early potatoes were earthed up and maincrops sown. It’s been a good day.
A therapeutic day away from all the hussle and bustle of life.
I know I’m lucky to have somewhere so quiet to garden in… but whether you take a walk in a park, sit on a chair in a town garden or just pot some plants up in a window box, take a minute to relax and look at nature working around you, and despite you.
Everyone needs a bit of horticultural therapy now and then.