Browsing Tag

mental health


Resilience ~ the ability of people or things to recover quickly

January 8, 2022

Resilience ~ the ability of people or things to recover quickly

Building resilience with the help of nature

Resilience – When a Word Finds You

Do you make New Year resolutions, or lists of goals or aspirations you’d like to achieve over the coming year? This year the word resilience found me, and over the following few paragraphs, I’ll be sharing with you why it’s such an important word.

Several years ago some friends and I talked about finding a word to guide us through the coming months. I don’t recall which of us suggested it, but the idea was to come up with a single word, not a sentence or several. A word that might be more achievable than a list. Since then we’ve begun each year with a new word that appealed to us, and have shared and explained their reasonings. I don’t recall any of my previous words, but this year, 2022, when I was hoofing along the road on an unseasonably warm 1st January to start the  #100daysofwalking challenge, a word jumped into my mind so forcefully it was hard to ignore. Resilience. This year my word has found me.  

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as:

“the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” It supports the notion that resilience can be cultivated and practiced with the necessary resources and skills”

Resilience isn’t something we are born with, it’s something we learn to develop and practice and I like the way it can be woven and adapted to our needs. I’ve used the word many times in my work life. It was introduced to me by Cultivate at Cloughjordan Eco Village and as a result I used to think of it in terms of helping to educate people to become more food secure, growing fruit and vegetables, developing communities, readying ourselves for dramatic climate changes that many are already beginning to experience. Nowadays, I’ve realised there’s a lot more to resilience.

So much of the way we live is out of our control. We can stress about that, ultimately making ourselves emotionally or physically unwell, or we can learn to live with it.

A nature walk to build resilienceI’ve spent recent years in a permanent state of self-induced stress as I’ve juggled with life as a self employed wife and mother, and unfortunately the results are beginning to show themselves. However, during my daily walks at this quiet time of year, I’ve realised that emotional resilience is something tangible I can work on. It’s important not to let this word slide through my fingers as I awaken from my winter slumber.

I can look after, care for and be gentle with myself.  I can give myself permission to take the time to do this. I can learn to say no and listen to my inner voice.

I’m grateful that a break over the festive season has given me the time to acknowledge this, and that grateful is a word I was leaning towards at the later end of 2021. Perhaps one word naturally leads to another.

As a parent I distinctly remember the feeling of shock and alarm when an air hostess instructed passengers to put our own masks on first in case of emergency. That simple instruction flew across every maternal instinct as I sat in my airplane seat holding our first born baby in my arms, on his way to meet his extended family for the first time. Yet, it was probably the most sound piece of advice I’ve been given. If we don’t have oxygen, how can we survive to help others?  We have to put ourselves first in order to care for others. There should be no shame in it.

UK charity MIND describes developing emotional resilience as:

“Taking steps to look after your wellbeing can help you deal with pressure, and reduce the impact that stress has on your life. This is sometimes called developing emotional resilience.

Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing. Resilience isn’t a personality trait – it’s something that we can all take steps to achieve.” 

The past couple of years have been immensely stressful for many, has anyone been left untouched by this global pandemic? And with a climate crisis bubbling away with increasing pressure, it’s unlikely that life will return to that as we once knew it. Those of us who’ve been involved with the environmental movement, be it for 50 years or 5, are going to feel the strain even more. I believe we’ll hear more voices from people like NASA climate scientist  Peter Kalmus, or the scientist in the satirical Netflix film ‘Don’t Look Up’ who shouted at anyone who would listen “We are trying to tell you that the entire planet is about to be destroyed”

We are all going to need to develop every ounce of resilience to deal with what’s coming.

The past couple of years have made me realise how much we experience is out of our control. Yet, if we let it, if we listen and trust, find a balance in life and work, allow time for ourselves, share our feelings and stop beating ourselves up for mistakes, we can learn and adjust and adapt. We can build our resilience and as we do so, we can become stronger.

We will be in a better position to face what’s coming, and unlike the comet that’s hurtling towards the planet in Don’t Look Up, we might just be in a position to stop, which is not yet the inevitable.

How is your resilience? Are you up for working on it too?

Vegetable Garden

How to (Re) Start a Vegetable Garden – Our Story on Instagram TV

May 21, 2020

How to Create a Vegetable Garden with Greenside Up

(Re) Starting a Vegetable Garden

The COVID-19 global pandemic has been many things to many people bringing trauma, pain and heartbreak but also space and time for reflection as the world slows down. There’s not a day gone by during the past three months when we haven’t felt blessed to be living in the countryside, forgetful of the many inconveniences that can dwell alongside it. Living miles from anywhere yet with a garden, albeit one that had become overgrown and unkempt from almost three years of neglect, has helped our mental health considerably during these difficult times.

How to Create a Vegetable Garden with Greenside Up

Encouraging biodiversity

On the 11th March 2020, as for many of us living in Ireland around that time, our world changed. All of my work stopped for the foreseeable future in what was to be my busiest year to date. Five of us were living under the same roof again and as parents, not only did we have our own worries and concerns to deal with, but had to consider how a lock-in might affect our three offspring as all their physical social contacts were cut.

New Skills

Luckily we had saved for and planned to make changes to our garden this year which included an entertainment area. As soon as it became apparent that garden centres and hardware stores were about to close and that fresh food shortages might develop, we threw ourselves into the work. I was able to use the new garden design skills I’d learnt in the part-time Advanced Landscaping course that I finished remotely in April. I also drew upon the personal experience gained of needing a low maintenance vegetable garden, and ensured we planned our space more efficiently whilst allowing habitats for biodiversity. Unexpectedly the kids got involved and helped to create new areas that far exceeded our own visions for relaxation.

During this unexpected time at home, I’ve had the opportunity to pull all my recent years of learnings together and in doing so, I’ve been sharing them on my new Instagram TV channel with the idea that I can continue to educate remotely and hopefully help some of you. Unfortunately I don’t have the video editing skills for fancy how to video’s, nor the broadband to allow for Zoom or live screenings, but Instagram TV gave me the opportunity, usually to film in one take, what’s been going on in our garden, warts and all.

All work, no play

It seems ironic that my hobby of growing vegetables at home, which turned into a working passion where I could help others start their own vegetable garden, became a monster that took me away from our own haven, where not a single seed was sown.

On the one hand I’d be talking to groups about the importance of not loosing life skills, of growing and buying local food and of food security, and on the other, was lucky to spend an hour or two outside a week at home cutting the grass. COVID-19 has changed that. It has given us time to reconnect, rethink and refresh.

I am thankful every day, not only that my friends and family have managed to keep their health, but to have had the time to spend in our garden and make the changes that were necessary. I hope that you have found the rewards that gardening and nature can bring too.

The following links to a sample of several videos I’ve made that you can find on Instagram. You don’t need an account to view them. If you’ve been thinking of creating a vegetable garden, or are looking for some tips and ideas on growing vegetables, I hope they’ll be of help. You can find the full series here, but in the meantime, here’s a few tasters.

How to Design a Vegetable Garden

I began with a practical session on How to Design a Vegetable Garden where I shared tips about how we planned to turn our lawn into a raised vegetable bed garden. There are more videos in the series that share how we did that, including the costings, soil and wood used.


View this post on Instagram


Dee talks you through the process she uses to plan and design her raised bed garden

A post shared by Dee Sewell | (@greensideupveg) on

How to Plan a Polytunnel Garden

This was followed by a mixture of short films that covered the almost overwhelming job of reclaiming the soil in our freshly covered polytunnel. Thank goodness I’d bought the new polythene back in the autumn from Highbank, even though I was cursing that we didn’t have time then to put it on the hoops back then.

How to Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

The film clips moved onto the front lawn where we installed the raised beds, planned for in the design video above. Although most vegetables are now planted and sown into the beds, we’re not finished yet as we still plan to cover the surrounding lawn with stones when funds allow, completely ridding ourselves of the patchy grass and its continual mowing regime.

How to Grow Courgettes

As the garden comes to life and seeds are being sown, I’ve started to include timely ‘How to’ guides for growing vegetables using techniques that have worked for me. For instance I recently planted courgettes in the polytunnel, saving some for outdoors.

There have been introductions to the various family members here, feathered and furry and how they will help to add organic matter to the vegetable garden in the months to come.

I’ve added some garden tours that follow the progress across all the areas. The most recent is a new Forest Bathing area in the little woodland on the property (or a potential Rave in the Woods once restrictions ease!)

During the past three months we’ve built raised beds, covered and filled the polytunnel, started to make a duck pond, cleared derelict buildings and made a garden bar. We’ve created a tranquil space in the woodland and made lazy beds for the potatoes in our one acre plot, we’ve sown seeds, transplanted plants, hardened them off, planted and pruned. The work is ongoing and I plan to continue with the videos over the coming months.

If you have an opportunity to watch all or any of the clips or have any questions or concerns in relation to creating a new vegetable garden please leave a comment. If you’d like to share how you’ve managed to get by during and if the garden or nature has helped, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime #staysafe

Forest Bathing At Greenside Up


Dear Garden

October 15, 2018

A love letter

The learning never ends

I wrote about my decision to return to adult education a couple of years ago and this May, I finished the Advanced Certificate in Horticulture, achieving the result that I’d set myself. It was hard work, juggling studies and assignments with family life, tutoring privately and with the Education Training Board, working with The GROW Observatory and volunteering with Community Gardens Ireland, especially having set my bar so high, but I enjoyed it all and with each passing month, my confidence grew. Towards the end while I was sitting my exams and feeling the mounting pressure, I realised that I was juggling over 14 different long and short-term projects. The world record for juggling balls is 11 and I knew that with one slip, all of those projects might all come crashing down around me.

And then it was over. My course finished, projects began to end with the onset of summer and I could breathe again. But rather than enjoy the time, I began to worry about how I could share the financial burden that can weigh Mr G down. It was becoming clear that an extra qualification wasn’t going to change our family circumstances in any immediate way, shape or form and volunteering and working mostly part-time simply wasn’t sustainable.

When the optimism fades

My usually optimistic mood began to muddy, and as I sat one day in tears, frustrated by my inability, I was transported back 15 years to our son’s first week in primary school.

After I collected our tired little boy from the gates and drove up the hill towards home, he began to sob “Mummy, why can’t I read and write, you told me when I went to school I’d be able to read and write”. Mortified that my words had caused his anxiety, I stopped to hug and reassure him that it would come, with work and patience.

The memory jolted me out of my desolation and helped me to realise that I too, was suffering from a similar, though self-inflicted, misunderstanding. As soon as I held those precious exam results in my hand, I believed that I would immediately land myself one well paid piece of work that would solve all our problems and stop me chasing my tail. But of course it didn’t and just like our wee little fella way back then, I was physically and emotionally drained.

One of my last assignments was to write a full business plan for Greenside Up and in doing so, I came up with a social enterprise idea that offered a more sustainable way forward. Unfortunately, having put every ounce of energy into it, when the course finished, I buried it  under a pile of papers on the office desk. However, the opportunity to revisit the plan surfaced recently when Carlow County Development Partnership funded a five-week Social Enterprise training workshop for Carlovians. It seemed like a good time to dig out the plan and sign up for another short course.

A love letter

The group’s homework the first day was to write a love letter to our chosen enterprise. It seemed an odd, slightly embarrassing task at the time, particularly as we had to read our letters out loud to the class during week two, but the exercise was part of a design thinking process that would apparently help us, and others, understand why our enterprises are so important. We have to love our ideas if we want others to love them too. Given that gardens are my enterprise, it was clear that I had to fall back in love with my own. Having abandoned it at the beginning of the year, I was forced to step outside so that I could complete this task. As I did, the fog began to clear and a sense of peace descended upon me.

I’ve decided to share my short love letter with you for no other reason than if you too are feeling a little lost, you’ll consider  heading outside for a few hours and seeing if being in a garden or outside surrounded by nature, works a similar kind of magical healing that it did for me.

A love letter to my garden

Dear Garden…

I’ve neglected you of late. I’ve been so caught up with college, work, family, community and global issues that I ignored you as I walked past the thistles and nettles on the way to the chicken coop. For a long while I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do to bring you back to your glory. It all got too much. As the pressures increased, my mood plunged and darkness threatened, I even stopped visiting the hens, relying on other family members to do it so that I could avoid the twice daily stroll across the tassely lawn. Instead I locked myself behind the door at every available opportunity. My mojo was gone.

Sadly I forgot how healing you can be when I needed you the most.

Thankfully, my dear garden, you are incredibly  forgiving. One clear, bright, day I got up, pulled on some old, painty clothes, grabbed my favourite small trowel that’s now encrusted with dried soil, picked up what was once a bright pink kneeling mat, and plonked myself down in the corner of an overgrown, square-shaped, shrubby ornamental border.

It only took a short while of feeling the sun on my face, listening to the birds singing in the beech and hawthorn trees that were touched with autumnal colours,  that I began to feel my soul relax. As the almost rhythmic sound of my hand tool chopped and dug its way through the creeping buttercups, dandelions and docks, aided by my warming muscles, I began to unwind.

As I begin to see the dark, crumbly, worm laden soil once more, my heart glowed as the simple pleasure of being outside, wrapped up in nature, engulfed me.

While I worked I began to think towards the future.

A love letter to my gardenWhat vibrant flowers would I like to see bloom in the newly created space. Will I choose pastels or summer shades? What healing herbs or tasty pollinator friendly morsels will I provide? Maybe the calm, sleep inducing lavender would sit well under the apple tree, or the citrus scented lemon balm and cleansing sage might nest well in the newly created space by the bench. Perhaps the creeping thyme might be a perfect fit between the paving stones, enabling it’s scent to release when footsteps crushed it. Possibly, I’d finally plant some Dahlia’s, something I’d been promising myself I’d do ever since I saw them in Mount Congreve several years ago.

Just a few hours of hard work and your beauty began to shine through, bringing a smile to everyone who saw the efforts of the work. Even the teens want to sit out there again now you are looking ‘presentable’.

Spending time with you has left me feeling fulfilled and I’m smiling once more. I can’t wait to return and experience this feeling again. I’m at peace, the madness that surrounds a busy life has faded.

You have provided me with a sense of hope. The effort I have put in today will not be seen for months, but then, when the days lengthen and warm once more and the flowers fill the garden with colour, we will all experience a sense of paradise in the garden.

Spending time with you is a healing pastime. It has allowed me to reconnect with the forces that feed you, to feel my own roots and recognise the investment into our future.

I’ve loved spending time with you. I’m reminded of the pleasures you share and I’m looking forward to planning and tackling the vegetable garden over the coming weeks as I make plans for our food garden.

I promise not to neglect you again and not only will I make you a priority once more, I will also share news of your magical healing effects and hope that others will take steps to find you in their own surroundings.

Thank you for your generosity my beautiful garden, you are truly wonderous in your ability to heal. I am blessed to live with you and I love you for all that you provide.

Dee x 

If you’re interested in using social and therapeutic horticulture to benefit community groups when working in the areas of community development, wellness, recovery, social inclusion, training and employment, I’ll be talking on the subject during Mensana, Carlow’s annual Mental Health Festival. Join us in An Gairdin Beo, Carlow Town (next to St Leo’s School) on Friday, 18th October between 10am and 12am where I’ll be sharing case studies, as well as discussing the concept, research and education opportunities. Contact me for more information. Talk sponsored by Carlow County Development Partnership.


Mindfulness and Herbs – A Perfect Combination

October 31, 2016

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

Practicing Mindfulness

A personal question, though one you don’t have to reply to… how is your mental well-being right now? Are you struggling a bit as the days get shorter and the nights longer and darker? Are you able to practice mindfulness? For those of us in the western hemisphere winter is approaching and with it I’ve noticed moods beginning to wobble as we wave goodbye to warm sunshine. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get outside for a while and be touched by the cool light, whether that means getting on with a few late autumn jobs in the garden or simply walking in the woods in quiet contemplation.

The Wellwood Centre

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Mindfulness Retreat at the Wellwood Centre, the beautifully designed and shiny new holistic centre a few miles from us in Royal Oak, Co Carlow. I was fortunately asked to design the planting plan for the herb garden there a couple of years ago and enjoyed returning to see how the plants had settled in.

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

I recommended over 250 different varieties of herbs for the four 7 m x 2 m purple raised beds, each planted in their designated aromatherapy, herbal tea, culinary and medicinal areas. With a year of growth behind them, it’s good to see the herbs settling down. They complement the striking Geodome and fit in with the rest of the eight acres of woodland, sculpture, grass, mounded, lake and ornamental gardens beautifully.

Guided Meditation

Marjo Oosterhoff from the Passaddhi Meditation Centre led the mindfulness retreat and after a day of silent, guided meditation with 15 or so other adults, I now feel more able to spend time meditating, a practice surprisingly recommended to me by my GP months ago. I hadn’t allowed myself the time, nor really understood the practice until the retreat. I particularly enjoyed learning about metta, or loving-kindness which is a way of reconnecting with our inner being that is kind and compassionate. This is something I try to practice every day now, even for just a few minutes.

Marjo read the following to us, a poem that touched me and I’ve found myself repeating since:

 By William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

As we begin to let winter enfold us, a time that can be tough for our mental health, I hope you’ll take a few moments to stop and stare at the beauty of the natural world around you and let nature work her magical healing powers.

If you’re already meditating, I’d love to hear any tips that can help me or readers of this blog keep up with the practice?

Food & Drink

Much More Than a Meal: Braised Red Cabbage Recipe

October 17, 2015

Braised Red Cabbage and Apple Recipe

I’d love to tell you that the following seasonal, braised red cabbage recipe will be so good for you it’ll light your internal fire all winter. Red cabbage is packed full of antioxidants and due to its purple colouring and organic growing conditions, it will make you look and feel younger. But telling you that would be wrong of me.

I was recently reminded by a plant breeder how inaccurate those kind of sweeping statements can be. Pat Fitzgerald explained during a horticultural tour of his nurseries, that unless the variety of fruit or vegetable in question has been tested in a laboratory, the ‘goodness’ contained within it can vary enormously.

Among other vegetables, Pat has been trialing and growing sweet potatoes in his nursery in Kilkenny for several years. Before he chooses which plants to breed for the discerning European market, he not only looks at the colour, texture and taste, he also sends tissue samples off to the laboratory for detailed chemical analysis of the nutrient content. The results help Pat make the final decision about which plants to choose for his breeding programmes. Apart from variety, several other factors will influence how nutritious a vegetable will be before it hits our stomachs, including its growing conditions and how we cook or prepare it.

So while I might tell you that a portion of red cabbage has 95% of your daily vitamin C allowance, as well as a good dose of fibre and minerals, that statement can only be used as a general guideline as the detail can vary widely.

However, there’s a lot more to vegetables than their nutritional content. We can often get hung up about how good food is or isn’t for us, but what’s often overlooked is how food makes us feel.

Transformative Autumn Sunshine

The first batch of braised red cabbage I made earlier in the week contained crab apples as they were all I had to hand. My fingers were sore from teasing the seeds out and my eyes streaming from chopping the onions and I wondered if the time spent standing at the counter was worth it.

Braised Red Cabbage and Apple Recipe

Nevertheless, as I continued and began to layer all the ingredients into the cooking pot, the low sun came out from behind a cloud and its rays streamed through the window, catching the vegetables in their dark pot, highlighting the depth of autumn colour contained within them in a way that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in an art gallery.

The moment stopped me in my tracks. It made me feel thankful for the experience and the bounty before me.

Braised Red Cabbage RecipeOrganically grown, these weren’t the most attractive looking red cabbages that were plucked from the soil to make way for the onions. In an industrial, commercial farm they’d have been ploughed straight back in. Full of holes from a failed slug control experiment, I had to strip their hard, outer leaves before revealing firm hearts that transformed into slices of marbled, glossy seductiveness. The transformation made me thankful of their growth and existence!

Braising slowly for hours in the slow cooker, spicy aromas filled the kitchen, evoking thoughts and memories of crisp mornings and warm log fires, laughter and sharing food over candlelit dinners. A definite smell of Christmas hung in the air on the sunny October afternoon as the nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves blended with the vinegar and apples.

Home grown food

Yes, the preparation was worth the effort. This alluring side vegetable reminded me that home-grown food is more than just something to keep us alive. It’s a thought and a feeling, a memory and a moment. It doesn’t deserve to be quickly boiled or fried without a second thought, before being stuffed and into our mouths as we rush from one job to another. Cooking and preparing food we’ve grown ourselves or sourced from somewhere close by can awaken an indescribable pleasure within us, one that can’t be measured in a lab.

The Recipe

If you’d like to have a go at reproducing the fleeting feeling for yourself and perhaps think about the emotions that eating and preparing a seasonal dish can unravel in your own psyche, here’s the recipe:

Braised Red Cabbage & Apple CookedBraised Red Cabbage Recipe

Serves 4 very generous portions

900g red cabbage, outer leaves removed, washed and sliced
450g red onions, sliced
450g peeled, cored and sliced apples (any variation)
45ml red wine vinegar
3 tblsp soft brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Knob of butter
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Have all the ingredients ready and simply arrange layers of the cabbage, onions, spices and apple in a large casserole dish or slow cooker, with the garlic, spices, salt and pepper sprinkled between each layer.

Braised Red Cabbage RecipePour the vinegar over the top, add the knob of butter, put on the lid and cook slowly.

In the oven this dish will take about 2½ to 3 hours at 150ºC/gas 2/300ºF, or in a slow cooker, for about four hours on low setting, stirring once or twice during the cooking time.

This dish can be cooked ahead and stored in the refrigerator. I’m currently seeing how well it freezes given there’s a large quantity.

Are you tempted to give it a go?

Community Gardens

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

October 11, 2015

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

An Gairdín Beo – A Living Garden for Carlow

I’m sitting quietly in the common room area of a new community garden project in the middle of Carlow town and in this particular instant, I couldn’t feel more at peace. The wall clock is ticking loudly, cars are passing by on the old Dublin Road and in the distance I can hear the shouts of children as they play. All of these are unfamiliar sounds to a woman who’s been living in rural Ireland for the past 17 years, someone who’s usual neighbours are herds of cows and hedgerow birds. The weekend sounds are somehow reassuring as I sit alone in this quiet, old school building during my volunteer shift, feeling an unusual sense of Saturday peace as I wait for company.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenJust through the open door crunchy leaves are skittering around the tarmac, early losses from the nearby silver birch and chestnut trees, marking the beginning of the seasonal change.

My eyes are drawn to the area that will soon be full of raised vegetable growing beds and a compost area and I can feel the bubbles of excitement in my tummy when I think about the plans for developing this garden. The potential for this social food growing and eco hub, bang in the middle of the county-town is heart-stirring.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenThis garden will be a place to socialise, to learn, to eat, to create, laugh, meditate or just be at one with nature in a green space that’s being created for the community, by the community. It’s unlikely it will be this quiet once the growing begins.

An Gairdín Beo, a living garden for Carlow, is in its early stages of development and the changes the other volunteers have made over the weeks in preparation for hosting the recent Integration Forum gathering, are palpable.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Where, just a short while ago there were laurel and bracken, pathways now meander beneath cleared stretches of overhanging evergreens, revealing steps with urns and other delights. In the distant end of the contemplation area, stags head sumac glow in the low sunlight, trees and and shrubs have been tidied, old flower growing areas resurrected and the undergrowth cleared from basketball courts that will one day be replaced by timber and soil.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenBoth of the buildings have been spruced up, cleaned and painted, toilets repaired and I can only imagine how different it was here just a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting friends in the UK.

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Photo Credit: Rosalind Murray

In September twenty nations moved into the garden for two hours for the Forum event, bringing life and vibrancy, food, song, art, laughter and music during the annual event that’s struggled to find a natural home until now.

We hope that An Gairdín Beo will welcome many more Carlow communities over the coming years.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenI was contacted twelve months ago about this new, two-acre community garden project in Carlow town, that sits snugly beside St Leo’s college and convent. It’s the first community garden that I’ve personally volunteered in and not simply worked with, and it’s cheering.

I’ve written many posts that you can find here about why community gardening is so good if you haven’t had the chance to join a community garden yourself, but a new group of us are beginning to live and breathe them in this urban centre.

Truly, the mental health benefits alone of being in a tranquil setting surrounded by nature, in a place that has already begun to enthuse so many people, cannot be underestimated.

Sharing the Harvest

Next weekend An Gairdín Beo will be holding another event that we hope will help to go some way towards solving the problem of what to do with our excess harvest. Perhaps next year we’ll be harvesting from the new community garden beds, but for now it will be from our own gardens as we try to find a solution for the food waste that often drips from abundant crab apple, plum and apple trees that surround many of us.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenFrom 2pm to 4pm on Saturday, 17th October the gates will be open wide once more and we will welcome everyone who wants to come inside and bring their excess harvest, perhaps swapping fruit or vegetables, or maybe just taking what you want in exchange for a donation towards the creation of this special garden.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING IN A COMMUNITY GARDENWe hope to be pressing apples (bring some empty containers in case), tea making and cake devouring as well as generally enjoying the company of new friends and people who enjoy being close to their food sources or who want to learn more about this or other community gardens.

If you’d like to become involved or simply keep in touch with the activities in An Gairdín Beo and watch from afar how the community garden develops, you can find our Facebook Group here.

Hope to see you there sometime.

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


If you don’t go outside this week…

March 14, 2014

You might miss the hawthorn leaves that are starting to unfold in the sun…….

Crataegus monogyna - or in simple terms the Hawthorn leaves are coming out to play

Crataegus monogyna ~ Hawthorn

Or you might not see the skeletal remains of last year’s foliage that managed to hang on through the harsh storm winds that ravaged the land…

Leaf in the sunlight

If you don’t explore the hedgerows this week you might miss the catkins on the hazel trees as they sway in the soft breeze…

Corylus avellana

Corylus avellana ~ Hazel

Or you might not spot the way the light catches them in the late evening sun…

Corylus avellana catkins

If you don’t take a few minutes to step outside the door and take a few minutes of peace for yourself, you’ll miss the sound of the birds and insects as they look for mates and food and nest and play….

Pussy Willow Catkins on the Salix

Salix ~ pussy willow

and if you don’t slow down you might not notice the way the pussy willow sparkles as as it catches the light.

If you don’t take a few minutes out of your busy life and head outside you might not feel the sunshine on your face as you momentarily stop, close your eyes, tilt your head and accept the warmth as it caresses your skin.

“Yesterday the twig was brown and bare;
To-day the glint of green is there;
Tomorrow will be leaflets spare;
I know no thing so wondrous fair,
No miracle so strangely rare.
I wonder what will next be there!”

L.H. Bailey

Will you take a few minutes during these dry, spring days to spend a little time practising mindfulness, bringing some calm and simplicity into your life? There’s a reason the word renewal is associated with spring, but you may have to head outside to find it…