Helping people to better health

RHS Garden Bridgewater is pioneering a social prescribing project to support the local community's wellbeing

Ozichi Brewster, Therapeutic Gardener, holds a plant for the Wellbeing Garden
Ozichi Brewster, RHS Therapeutic Gardener, is leading a programme to support the local community’s wellbeing in a unique role that recognises the connection between gardening and better health.

People have been referred to RHS Garden Bridgewater through ‘social prescribing’ by their doctors and the wellbeing programme is looking at ways therapeutic gardening, gardens and green spaces can transform people’s lives.

Ozichi explained: “We’ve signed up 30 people to the programme so far. The people who've been referred to us regularly see their GP or have A&E appointments for chronic conditions that can flare up. As part of our research we’re going to assess the positive impacts of working in the garden on people’s wellbeing and how soon it’s experienced.”

Benefits of therapeutic gardening

Picking deadheads from plants
“Sometimes people don’t feel well enough to tackle gardening because it can be  seen as hard work –  digging can feel like that. But doing things like weeding and picking ‘deadheads’ off a plant can be very therapeutic,” Ozichi said.

“The person is engaging with nature and out in fresh air. Extend that to creating things using plants, beautifying an area or seeding a space to grow things to eat, all those elements have a ‘give back’ factor that is satisfying and for many, it’s an instant result. There’s not a lot of thinking going on – it’s very mindful and they’re immersed in it. Things drop away, we’re heavy thinkers in today’s world, but it allows you to leave things behind. People just look and feel satisfied when they’ve had a session of gardening so that’s why I advocate it.”

Just be willing to have a go

Ozichi admitted that gardening can also seem very specialised, but she likes to demystify it. “Half of it's being willing to have a go and the other half is learning that it’s about experimentation. Plants do need care but by doing it you learn, confidence grows and you see something develop – that’s usually quite magical for people.”

Bring the volunteers building to life with hanging baskets The local Salford community has been closely involved in helping to reconstruct the site and the wellbeing programme is a big part of that, working with different teams to bring the garden to life.

“The people on the programme have made more than 300 crowns for local flower shows out of willow whips and embellished the volunteers’ building with hanging baskets and troughs. We’ve collaborated with the Woodland team, who are replanting the pond, to create hessian encased plug plants that can be dropped into the water and won’t float away. We’ve also been asked to create bug hotels so we’ve built an initial design in our corner of the woodland, dedicated to wellbeing activities, that we can re-create in the coppiced woodland. It really feels that everyone at Bridgewater is part of the emergence of the garden, it’s motivating and feels very good.”

Project supports garden teams

Woodland walks are part of the wellbeing programme for people whose mobility can cope with walking and Ozichi has added art to the project. “We might pick up pieces of beautiful slate on our walk and we’re looking at ways to make use of that in the garden. We’re going to create a rockery at the front of the volunteer building, as a relaxing place for future volunteers to enjoy, to complement our current wellbeing area. We’re also looking to find ways of seeding and growing meadow plants for the Woodland team and are planting hellebore seeds by an oak tree.

Our referrals can see when the hellebores spring up in the future and know they prepared or planted them. It makes people feel they’re part of a community,” she added.

“Our current wellbeing area, transformed by six volunteer referrals, used to be part of the woodland and is tucked behind the volunteers building. It’s a colourful place for people on our wellbeing programme to relax, be creative and do hands-on gardening activities. The wellbeing space at RHS Garden Bridgewater will grow in the future as a new Wellbeing Garden is developed,” Ozichi Brewster 

What about the future? 

“The people on our wellbeing programme will be a big part of bringing the Wellbeing Garden to life and supporting our colleagues at Bridgewater. It will become a fantastic hub for lots of different community groups to use and enjoy – groups that support people with dementia or brain injuries can do therapeutic activities, yoga or tai chi and groups can explore the therapeutic nature of plants.

The space will also be used by individuals on their own therapeutic gardening programmes. I’m excited that we’re building a Community Grow Garden and a Community Learning Garden as well as the Wellbeing Garden. When you bring these wonderful resources together it’s going to be a great place and epitomises the fabulous ethos of Bridgewater and the RHS, to connect people with gardening.” 

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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.