Visit The Therapy Garden horticulture charity in Normandy
PUBLISHED: 23:27 03 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:41 04 April 2017
The Therapy Garden in Normandy, near Guildford, is opening next month through the National Gardens Scheme. Leigh Clapp visits to learn more about the wonderful work this charity does
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2017
Founded in 1998, The Therapy Garden is a registered horticulture and education charity in Normandy, near Guildford, funded entirely by grants and their own fundraising activities, which uses gardening to make positive change for adults and teenagers in the local community.
Motivated by the power of gardening to support, communicate and promote independence, the charity’s team of experienced horticulturalists, trustees and a committed team of volunteers supports young people and adults with learning difficulties and development delays, mental health challenges and physical disabilities.
The charity is backed by two patrons; Dame Penelope Keith, herself a keen gardener, who has seen from similar projects, the benefits close contact with earth and nature brings, and Jezz Stamp, Horticulturalist of the Year 2013, whose passion for working with plants exemplifies the well-being gardening gives.
The one-and-a-half acre working garden is a welcoming and protected space with planting that changes through the seasons. Both ornamental and productive plants fill the landscape.
“Our garden areas are designed for accessibility, including wheelchair-friendly pathways, raised vegetable and flower beds, sensory areas and quiet spaces,” explains Rachel Allan, head of PR and fundraising.
There is also a wildlife pond, a central water feature and a newly planted Waitrose Partnership Garden with spiral parterre planting.
The charity supports in particular young people age 14 to 18 through the Green School, where they can gain a City and Guilds vocational qualification, and local stroke victims referred from the Stroke Association.
“Our ‘Stroke of Genius’ project with stroke survivors has proved a huge success,” adds Rachel. “The group is able to learn gardening skills transferable to home, and it seems the chance to socialise with other stroke survivors is just as valuable as the gardening itself.”
Others may be referred to the charity by social services and community mental health teams. For some adults, it may be part of a wider rehabilitation process. For all, the aim is to develop self-esteem and self-confidence.
As well as the large gardens that provide a range of outdoor activities, from propagation to harvesting, there is also a purpose built office, training room and retail facilities where produce and plants grown by their clients and staff are sold.
Gardening offers a wealth of tasks, all with an end result of beauty from flowers or produce to eat, so it is no wonder it brings joy to all and a sense of satisfaction.
Even the task of quietly sitting and weeding a raised bed is therapeutic for the mind and builds motor skills. Being outside in the fresh air is known to make people calmer, happier and gives a sense of freedom.
A quick word with those who take part at The Therapy Garden and you get answers along the lines of ‘it’s nice to get back to gardening and it has encouraged me to do more in my own garden’, ‘it’s good company and enjoyable’, ‘you make friends, have fun and feel like you are doing something worthwhile’ and ‘it’s improved my fine motor skills, walking and I’ve gained an interest in gardening’.
As well as visiting the garden through the National Gardens Scheme, you may know of someone who would benefit from their services, or you may like to get involved volunteering your skills and time.
“The Therapy Garden is incredibly lucky to have a team of almost 30 volunteers, without whom we simply could not exist,” says Rachel. “Volunteers help clients in the garden with various activities and find the combination of working with clients and being out in the garden really enjoyable.”
Don’t just take our word for it though, make sure to visit soon.
• The Therapy Garden, Normandy, Guildford, Surrey GU3 2DT opens for the NGS on Sunday May 21, 11am to 4pm. Entry is £5 per adult, with children free. Visits are also welcome by arrangement. More information at thetherapygarden.org / ngs.org.uk
Practical tips to make gardening accessible
• Plan ahead, think through what you need to do in the garden and have everything ready
• Use a kneeler, stool or seat to work from or take rest breaks
• Use lightweight tools to prevent strain
• Small cultivation tools may be easier
• Long handled tools will save over-reaching
• Keep tools together in a handy carrier or tool belt
• Warm up before gardening with some simple bending and stretching exercises
• Tackle one job at a time and take breaks
• Use no-dig raised beds or containers
• A wide edge on a raised bed can be used as seating to make access even easier
• Choose the easiest plants to grow and don’t need much maintenance
• Use ground cover plants to cut down on weeding
• Grow vegetables in containers
• Have relaxing seating in the garden to enjoy and get close to nature and the earth