The Therapeutic Gardener

Helping people who are facing mental health and wellbeing challenges can be a demanding role but that's exactly what our Therapeutic Gardener takes great pride in doing

Ozichi Brewster is our Therapeutic Gardener based in Salford, where she’s welcoming patients, referred by their GPs, to experience the healing power of nature and gardening at RHS Garden Bridgewater. She is well placed to support them and understand how difficult and overwhelming life can feel: in her former professional role she herself faced stress which eventually became unbearable.

‘After 15 years in mental health advocacy I was teetering on the brink of burnout and needed to care for me. I wanted to garden and be able to work in and with nature – this and caring for others is my passion.’

Ozichi’s life took a different turn when she arrived at the garden. Putting the community at the heart of her work in a role that’s unique in the RHS, she has developed a wellbeing programme that will support up to 75 local people as it rolls forward.

Returning to roots

‘I’ve always gardened and can take it as far back as the life I lived as an infant in Nigeria. I was born in the UK and went back to my parents' country at a very young age, spending nine years there living in a village. There’s so much nature around you, no concrete, everything is earthy and all our foods were growing around us,’ says Ozichi.

‘I had that passion instilled in me right from the onset of infanthood and it’s never left me. I’m always drawn by nature, it’s an important part of my life and I’ve done various jobs – but the best ones have always been when it’s been connected to nature. Even if it hasn't been part of my work in the past, it’s something I’ve done for myself, so having a garden where I’m growing food or having an allotment has always been an important part of my journey.’

'...gardening in its simplest form really, it brings a sense of satisfaction'

When other people are involved, she enjoys gardening even more. ‘The people element is an aspect I like, that social interaction. I like assisting people and enabling them – when you put that with gardening it’s the perfect combination for me. When you see people working in nature, they work together quite happily to get an activity completed. For me, that’s community gardening at its best, with no barrriers, I like to be able to see people thrive.’

Therapeutic gardening, back on the agenda

Ozichi is glad that therapeutic gardening is regaining professional recognition. ‘I first came into contact with social prescribing back in the 1980s working on a 42-acre farm owned by a charity in London. Their aim was to connect city and country. I worked as a Residential Centre Manager and regularly supported people recovering from mental illness, drug use or young people who were in care.’

‘They’d be sent to the farm as social prescribing, to work with me for a short programme, sometimes longer. Back in history, ‘mental hospitals’ had grounds that were used for farming – growing food, caring for animals and medicinal herbs. Then it was recognised by doctors as beneficial to help calm the mind and restore the person back to a sense of balance. We’ve gone full circle and doctors are helping their patients by directing them to sources and resources which could help them that are not just prescribed medicines.’

Gardening in its simplest form

‘Some of us have spaces where we can grow things but it’s not specifically needed, simple containers can be planted up. In next to no time, people have flowers to admire in their garden or herbs to pick to cook with. That’s gardening in its simplest form really, it brings a sense of satisfaction, it’s a bit effortless.

'The small plants will start to grow and have form. People start to feel they can do more of this. They’re inspired to get their next exciting plant and the area starts to fill. Butterflies and bees start to appear and they observe the change they’re helping to create.’

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.