| It’s not horticulture, it’s community!
A lot is said and written nowadays about the therapeutic value of horticulture, and there is no doubt that many people find working in their gardens beneficial. However, we wonder whether too much emphasis is put on the gardening aspect, to the neglect of the even more beneficial properties of contact with nature, and of working together collectively as a community.
While a few of our volunteers love plants, working with and learning about them, throughout our research we find that when people talk about the benefits to them of working at the nurseries, horticulture is rarely mentioned. It is being safe, peaceful, among friends, that is valued. Undoubtedly being outside, in the fresh air, seeing wildlife, feeling the wind, are essential to mental well-being and can provide healing, but we often question whether the concept of ‘horticultural therapy’ is partially a myth. The therapeutic value of horticulture derives from the contact it involves with the earth, the natural world, reinforcing the connections between all living things. The horticultural industry is a very stressful environment in which to work, with high rates of mental health problems. We must remember that suicide rates among farmers and growers are higher than in many other industries, and getting higher.
The term sometimes used for our kind of work is ‘social and therapeutic horticulture’, which more fully recognises the community aspect. We do not question the inherent appeal of the natural environment and its restorative values, but after discovering that the majority of our volunteers have no interest in horticulture, and attend the horticultural courses we provide more for the group experience and the status of having been on a course than for any desire to learn about the subject matter, we have to conclude that the process of recovering well-being and quality of life is more complicated than it may first appear!
Growing our own food
The country is showing a welcome return in interest in producing our own food, organically, locally and in a more sustainable way. People are beginning to realise that in this lies humanity’s only hope of survival. Demand for land and for allotments is rising, and with it the realisation that ‘the roots of justice, freedom, social security and democracy lie not so much in access to money or the ballot box, as in access to land and its resources’ ‘ The Land’. Land, or access to land, has become an issue of crucial importance.
We have noticed many changes in the buying habits of customers over the years. The first was from long-lasting traditional shrubs towards cottage-garden type perennials, grasses and bamboos, indicating a different feel for, or view of the garden.
More importantly, there is now a growing demand for vegetables, fruit and herbs, and we are greatly increasing the numbers and varieties of these we have available. We are also delighted to recognise a rapidly growing demand for trees, especially native, fruit and nut trees. A lot of these trees are being planted in schools, or on waste land.