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  • Ellen Mary

My journey into social & therapeutic horticulture with THRIVE

I’ve always known that gardening is good for humans. It’s been my place of quiet therapy for as long as I can remember. In times of sadness, in times of reflection, in times of looking towards the future and in times when I just really had to get the manure forked in! So to me the idea that horticulture can provide therapy isn’t new. It’s just a fact.

In order to really understand why and how it helps us I decided to delve a bit deeper with THIVE who provide social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) to those with with disabilities, mental health issues, isolated, disadvantaged and vulnerable. It felt to me like just saying it can help isn't enough, fully understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’ is the key to connecting people to horticulture to make a difference.

I used to live in London and commute daily to work about 15 years ago and I always looked at everyone, dressed mainly in black hurrying to work just like a swarm of ants with the grey buildings towering above into the sky. I always noted the lack of greenery and craved my weekends back in Norfolk. My journey down to Regents Park, was no different. Just plain rushed without a sniff of nature apart from the odd Buddleja growing at the side of train tracks.

Thankfully the workshop introduction to STH was in the middle of peaceful Regents Park and we cracked on with what both STH and THRIVE are all about. Run by Dr. Sean Morrissey, with the most sublime Scottish accent which was therapeutic in itself, Sean was both knowledgeable and passionate for THRIVE and its mission. We were given packs of information and notes on where to find free downloads on STH. We started with an introduction from everyone on the course, at which point I felt already humbled. From a dementia nurse to a retired doctor, a school teacher, artist working with vulnerable people, probation officer, a landscape designer and fashionista turned pursuit of the meaningful, here I sat with absolutely no knowledge of how to ‘care’ for anyone. I just have my love of gardening.

We learnt that research shows the first 6 months of engagement in STH shows great benefit to individuals and plateaus at 2 years. This is particularly relevant for Doctors prescribing horticulture as a way of helping patients with mental health issues. The question remains at 2 years - does progression need to be seen? Is it that this level then just needs to be maintained?

We were posed questions on situations such as a visually impaired gardener wanting to sow carrots in a straight line and to be able to thin out appropriately. What would we suggest? Knots in rope, raised beds, wooden guides - many more options than one would think!

The continuous topic of teaching horticulture in school is, as ever, important because this in itself could help with improved mental health, not just skills for the industry. Something which I am on a mission to push forward.

Amongst many other points and activities including potting a primrose with our eyes closed and a walk to an urban allotment plot, we discussed ‘presence theory’ and how nurturing a poorly plant to life is a great analysis of us nurturing each other and why gardening is important. There were questions surrounding what the term ‘therapist’ actually means. All agreed perhaps ‘practitioner’ is more appropriate. I had been thinking about that a lot. I am not a therapist, I would prefer to provide the space to let nature be that quiet, unspoken therapy to us all. After all, we are nature aren't we?

To take a look at my YouTube vlog from the workshop day chlick HERE

For more information on THRIVE go to their webiste at:

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