The heal­ing power of gar­den­ing

How a trail-blaz­ing char­ity is us­ing the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects of gar­den­ing to help peo­ple who have suf­fered from strokes, or have de­men­tia, dis­abil­i­ties or men­tal health is­sues

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Katharine Woot­ton

Like a doc­tor’s surgery full of pa­tients with all kinds of ail­ments and things go­ing on in their lives, the gar­dens run by hor­ti­cul­tural ther­apy char­ity, Thrive, are busy with peo­ple fac­ing all kinds of sit­u­a­tions, from strokes or de­men­tia to de­pres­sion. But while doc­tors and nurses might give out pills, po­tions and plas­ters, Thrive pre­scribes rakes, hoes and spades in the pur­suit of mak­ing peo­ple’s lives bet­ter through gar­den­ing. Since 1978 when pi­o­neer­ing hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist Chris Underhill planted the seeds of a char­ity based on an idea he’d seen in Africa – where gar­den­ing was used to help the visu­ally im­paired – Thrive has been of­fer­ing a green-fin­gered help­ing hand to the peo­ple who need it most. Across three main re­gional cen­tres na­tion­wide out­reach pro­grammes, last year Thrive helped change 1,400 lives with noth­ing more than soil, plants and a sprin­kling of gar­den­ing ad­vice. Take one of their most suc­cess­ful pro­grammes, a 12-week scheme with stroke groups around the coun­try, where they use in­door, ta­ble-top plant­ing ses­sions to help im­prove the health and emo­tional well-be­ing of peo­ple liv­ing with the af­ter­ef­fects of a stroke. “Gar­den­ing is great for build­ing up strength and dex­ter­ity af­ter a stroke, of­ten with­out peo­ple even re­al­is­ing it. Be­cause the classes are very so­cial it’s a

chance for peo­ple to chat, which some peo­ple can ini­tially find dif­fi­cult if the stroke has af­fected their speech,” says Thrive’s chair of trustees Faith Ram­say. For peo­ple deal­ing with de­men­tia, too, Thrive of­fers the chance for them to do some­thing with their hands and find joy even if things seem bleak. “Gar­den­ing gives peo­ple with de­men­tia a mean­ing­ful ac­tiv­ity to keep them oc­cu­pied and their hands busy. By be­ing out­doors in the fresh air it of­ten helps them sleep bet­ter, too,” says Faith.

Alyson Chor­ley, a mem­ber of staff from Thrive adds: “We had one man called Phil who has Alzheimer’s. Through our pro­gramme, he’s been able to tend to veg and even make a posey of flow­ers for his wife

which was some­thing very spe­cial he would never have been able to do be­fore. What’s more, we find the pro­gramme gives car­ers the chance to have respite for a cou­ple of hours while their loved ones gar­den in a safe space.”

In re­cent months, Thrive has also teamed up with the Bri­tish Lung Foun­da­tion to of­fer gar­den­ing cour­ses for those liv­ing with breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, as well as run­ning hugely suc­cess­ful schemes in li­braries and com­mu­nity cen­tres to help com­bat lone­li­ness in later life. While each Thrive pro­gramme usu­ally only lasts a few months, the idea is to fos­ter a love for gar­den­ing far be­yond the end of the course.

“We have a few peo­ple who started their own lit­tle gar­den­ing groups af­ter

we’ve given them the ini­tial con­fi­dence and skills they need, which is won­der­ful,” says Alyson.

Many peo­ple who at­tend the cour­ses also go on to be­come ‘client gar­den­ers’ where they reg­u­larly pop into the one of the re­gional cen­tres to work on their own patch of gar­den – some even stay for decades. Many client gar­den­ers then be­come vol­un­teers or work to­wards qual­i­fi­ca­tions in hor­ti­cul­ture that al­low them to gain more op­por­tu­ni­ties and some­times even start a new chap­ter in their life.

One man who did just that was Tom Wat­son. At the age of 18 he was in­volved in a bad car ac­ci­dent that left him with epilepsy, brain dam­age and nu­mer­ous bro­ken bones. “Be­cause of his in­juries he couldn’t hold down an of­fice job and was

fall­ing into de­pres­sion,” says Alyson. “Then his mum heard of Thrive and he started com­ing along to our Bat­tersea Park cen­tre. Over two years he gained qual­i­fi­ca­tions in gar­den­ing skills and even­tu­ally went on to have a ca­reer in gar­den­ing for a few years. His mum said gar­den­ing brought Tom back to how he’d been be­fore the ac­ci­dent and re­ally turned his life around.” Thrive now wants to sow the seed of its mis­sion far and wide to even­tu­ally make gar­den­ing ther­apy as pop­u­lar and well-known as phys­io­ther­apy – as well as reach­ing out to more peo­ple who could ben­e­fit from its unique ben­e­fits. Faith says: “Gar­den­ing is great as any­one can do it and the process of car­ing for some­thing and watch­ing it grow is hugely pow­er­ful.

“You’re learn­ing things all the time, you’re be­ing phys­i­cal, you’re chat­ting to other peo­ple and you’ve got all the amaz­ing ben­e­fits of be­ing in na­ture,” says Alyson. “The ben­e­fits to ev­ery­one are just enor­mous.”

DID you know? Ex­po­sure to green spa­ces has been proven to cause a dip in the lev­els of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol which con­trols mood, mem­ory and im­mu­nity. Mean­while, clear­ing the gar­den can burn as many as 400 calo­ries per hour and can help strengthen the heart, mus­cles and core, im­prov­ing flex­i­bil­ity and bal­ance.

Thrive’s chair of trustees Faith Ram­say

■ to find out more about vol­un­teer­ing with thrive call 01189 585688 or visit

For in­for­ma­tion about gar­den­ing with a dis­abil­ity call the ad­vice line on 0118 988 5688.

If you’d like to sup­port thrive’s work please send a cheque payable to thrive to: the Ge­of­frey Udall Cen­tre, Beech hill, read­ing, Berk­shire rG7 2At. Far left: vol­un­teers help­ing nur­ture the gar­dens. Left and above, thrive helps peo­ple from all walks of life

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