EVER thought how much a gar­den might be able to help a loved one suf­fer­ing from men­tal health prob­lems, whether it’s an el­derly rel­a­tive show­ing signs of de­men­tia or a trau­ma­tised child?

For­mer city fi­nance worker Faith Ram­say, new chair of trustees at hor­ti­cul­ture ther­apy char­ity Thrive (, left her lu­cra­tive job to re-train as a gar­den de­signer and in the process al­le­vi­ated her own bouts of de­pres­sion.

She ex­plains: “Thrive ther­a­pists use hor­ti­cul­ture to achieve a ther­a­peu­tic out­come. Dif­fer­ent plants help al­le­vi­ate dif­fer­ent prob­lems.”

Here, she of­fers tips on plants to in­clude in ther­a­peu­tic gar­den schemes:

Faith says: “It’s calm­ing, bal­ances the senses and has a seda­tive qual­ity which can aid sleep. Be­ing sur­rounded by laven­der and the nat­u­ral smell of it is very good.

“If you’ve had an emo­tion­ally trau­matic mo­ment, laven­der is sub­lim­i­nally very calm­ing.”

“Helps mem­ory and is good for de­men­tia set­tings,” she says. “It’s a stim­u­lat­ing plant for deal­ing with feel­ing low and need­ing a boost. I wouldn’t have laven­der and rose­mary cheek by jowl. There needs to be space for calm­ing and space for be­ing up­lifted. “


“For many peo­ple, men­tal health prob­lems, [such as SAD], are worse in the win­ter. Choose an early spring-flow­er­ing bulb for a sense of op­ti­mism, to give the mes­sage that life goes on and pos­i­tive things are com­ing.

“Iris retic­u­lata come out in Fe­bru­ary in lovely blues and pur­ples, when the weather is grey and you are feel­ing rock-bot­tom. They could be grown by some­one who only has a bal­cony and they flower when noth­ing else is out.” “Par­tic­u­larly good for chil­dren with men­tal ca­pac­ity is­sues be­cause they can touch and grab and smell and in­ter­act with it. If you are con­stantly be­ing told not to touch or poke things, sud­denly be­ing able to do that is very em­pow­er­ing.”

“If you are deal­ing with an el­derly per­son, maybe some­one who is start­ing to suf­fer from de­men­tia, in­clude plants which were around dur­ing their child­hood, like pinks, which are very aro­matic, or sweet peas, be­cause those memories are lost last. These aro­matic, old-fash­ioned plants may strike a chord with peo­ple in their seven­ties and eight­ies, which echo some­thing from their child­hood.”

“Put sweet peas around a wig­wam with pinks un­der­neath it. As a form of hor­ti­cul­tural ther­apy for de­men­tia, Thrive would en­cour­age the pa­tient to plant sweet peas. They are easy seeds to han­dle.

“Be­ing able to grow plants is an im­por­tant part of ther­apy. Grow from seed in pots or buy seedlings from a gar­den cen­tre. It will give a sense of achieve­ment.”

“Plants that need a lot of TLC such as roses and pe­onies. If you’ve for­got­ten to stake your pe­ony and it’s col­lapsed, it can make you feel less pos­i­tive. I would in­clude hardy gera­ni­ums, pen­ste­mons, iris bulbs, daf­fodils, laven­der and rose­mary, which won’t need per­sis­tent care.”

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