What is a therapeutic garden?

It’s easy say that we want to establish a therapeutic garden but it is also easy to argue that any garden is therapeutic…especially one of the key justifications for developing a ‘therapeutic’ garden is the evidence that gardening or even just being in a garden is therapeutic in the sense that has a positive effect on both physical and mental health. However when setting up any new project it is critical that everyone has a shared understanding of what the project is trying to achieve, why they personally are involved and what they see their role as. An important step in our context is to ensure that we are clear about what we mean by a therapeutic garden. The Oxford English Dictionary defines therapeutic as

Therapeutic (adj.)
1.1      Relating to the healing of disease:   ‘diagnostic and therapeutic facilities’
1.2      Administered or applied for reasons of health:   ‘a therapeutic shampoo’
1.3      Having a good effect on the body or mind; contributing to a sense of well-being:   ‘a therapeutic silence’

and in fact, 1.3 ‘having a good effect on the body or(/and); contributing to a sense of well-being’ does broadly represent what is meant by therapeutic in this context very well . Certainly both sitting in my garden and gardening in my garden are extremely therapeutic for me. It’ s impossible to know how I would be without my garden ‘therapy’ but I am pretty sure I would be in a much darker place mentally and that my physical health would have suffered too.

However, its  important to clarify not only what we hope to achieve with our therapeutic garden but also to consider a number of other questions such as

  • what physical form it will take?
  • what are the key components of a garden that optimises physical & mental wellbeing? (taking into account the Yorkshire weather and our specific location)
  • who can we seek advice and/or support from to guide us through our journey?
  • what resources,if any, are available to help establish a therapeutic garden?

I am  a great believer in asking for help from people who have done it before – so that you learn from both their successes and the things that went wrong. Some things, of course, may be impossible to explain in words – for example, how do you replicate the extraordinary atmosphere at Helmsley Walled Garden; my inspiration for this project. A selection of pictures from there below. Well worth a visit if you can. It’s a very special place. link to Helmsley walled garden



Thrive, (ThriveHomePage)the national charity for social and therapeutic horticulture expands on the dictionary definition of therapeutic, explaining much more broadly the therapeutic benefits of gardening placing health and well-being at the centre of their model. They are clearly an essential organisation to make contact with as our plans become clearer and more concrete. I am in the process of doing this. They also offer a range of educational opportunities including 1 and 2 day workshops specifically designed for individuals setting up therapeutic gardening enterprises.  Going to one or more of their workshops would also have the advantage of meeting other like minded people. One obstacle, however is that most of the workshops are based at their headquarters in Reading which would be a mammoth mission for me to get to. It would definitely mean two nights accommodation as I would not manage travelling and the workshop on the same day. But there are some in Birmingham and Preston which would still need stopovers but mean a much less arduous journey.


Another source of information and possibly some funding is The Gardening for the Disabled Trust. Our garden really needs improved wheelchair access to parts of it to enable anyone in a wheelchair (including me!!) to enjoy all parts of the garden. I have had to resort to a wheelbarrow in the past!. I am putting in an application for a grant to help with this, mainly for materials as there are lots of willing bodies to help with the labour who will contribute their muscle power for free.

great fun but perhaps wouldn’t suit everyone

And then of course there are an increasing number of academic papers expounding the benefits of gardens and gardening and describing therapeutic gardens varying from extensive areas  established as residential retreats that can be prescribed for individuals with mental health problems as an alternative to anti-depressants, to small community projects. The nurturenature  garden is tiny compared to the vast majority of these projects but that doesn’t mean its not worthwhile if it succeeds in making a difference to those that access it.

We are at the beginning of a journey with a steep learning curve – including clarifying exactly what we mean by a therapeutic garden in our own unique context. The destination (a functioning, open nurturenature therapeutic garden) is key of course but it’s also critical that we enjoy the journey. A wonderful excuse to grow lots of plants, meet interesting people, learn, learn, learn, spend lots of time in the garden, visit other gardens, optimise the structure and planting of the garden to promote well-being. Lots of scents, sound of running water, tactile sculptures,places to rest and reflect etc. Can’t wait. And of course it also gives me an excuse to do lots of spreadsheets, lists and organising. Heaven. (And no I’m not joking!!)


“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa





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