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Social & Therapeutic Horticulture Practitioner, Advisor, Trainer & Speaker

Alison Marsden

I am a long term advocate of the power of gardening to support wellbeing. As a trained Social & Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) practitioner I offer hands-on sessions for a range of participants tailoring the activities to the capabilities and objectives of each group. My experience includes working with Dementia Cafés, residents in care homes, hospice day therapy, mental health service users and an acquired brain injury support group. I can also advise organisations wishing to create their own therapeutic gardening programmes, provide workshops, design activities and build outcome measurement models to evidence the benefits and drive improvement. I am an experienced public speaker, writer and tutor and love sharing my knowledge of gardening for individuals and as a therapy.

Gardening by Design is an approach to gardening based on understanding; understanding the needs of my clients, how gardening helps people and how plants grow.  My aim is for you to understand these things too however and wherever you are gardening.  Check out my Blog and my video tips and tutorials available from Resources along with links to other people’s stuff that I have found useful.

Happy Gardening from Alison

How We Can Work Together

Why is social and therapeutic horticulture Important?

The evidence is clear from studies across different countries and cultures that access to, and connection with, nature enhances human wellbeing.  Meaningful activities in nature can reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression, encourage physical activity and increase a general sense of happiness, wellbeing and belonging.  But 18% of the UK population spend time in nature less than once a month, some people never.  The ability to view or sit in a beautiful garden can aid recovery from illness too and increasingly hospitals are having gardens built.

Gardening is one of the most accessible, flexible and familiar way for us to connect with nature right outside our own door or at a community garden within our locality.  Social and therapeutic horticulture projects go beyond that to use gardening as a medium to deliver therapy and the health outcomes are more important than the gardening outcomes.  Programmes cater for a wide variety of participants including people with mental health problems, long term health conditions and physical or learning disabilities.  STH practitioners have to understand how to support people with these diagnoses as well as having a good knowledge of gardening.

Read more about the studies and benefits of Gardening


What is Mental Health Recovery?

I see the recovery movement as a resurgence of the common sense and humanity approach to supporting people who live with mental health difficulties.  The term recovery emerged in 1990s and does not imply a cure in the way that a physical injury or disease may be cured because many people will live their whole lives with the impact of depression, schizophrenia or PTSD for example.  Rather it is focused on recovery of a meaningful and fulfilling life not defined by a diagnosis. Recovery and social inclusion has been one of the three strands of mental health care in UK government policy since 2001, in partnership, not conflict, with medication and psychological therapies.

Social & Therapeutic Horticulture finds a natural home here with the benefits of nature-based interventions mapping closely to the key components of recovery, frequently summarised as Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment in the CHIME model.

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