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What is Horticultural Therapy and How Can It Help PTSD?

By:Caroline Nettle
Date: Wed,28 Oct 2020
Submitter:Caroline Nettle

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Wild Nettle Gardens

One of the most common questions I get is why I set up Wild Nettle Gardens and what Care Farming is?

Horticultural therapy is a form of care giving whereby the people with emotional or mental health issues receive their treatment in a garden or outdoor setting. The focus is on allowing the individual to proceed at their own pace, whilst benefitting from being outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of life, surrounded by nature.

Horticultural therapy is designed to encourage recovery from issues by creating a safe and secure place that offers peace and tranquility to learn new practical skills. Gardening, and being outside in nature has, for many centuries, been recognised as a therapy that is useful in providing benefit to people who’s lives are stressful as it has been proven to offer restorative properties.

Here are the benefits of horticultural therapy according to– one of the leading organisations who provide training and information about horticultural therapy in the UK-

The benefits of a sustained and active interest in gardening include:

Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’
There are many peer reviewed studies that have been conducted to ascertain the benefits of horticultural therapy. An example is “Detweiler et al – they found that “Preliminary studies have reported the benefits of horticultural therapy and garden settings in reduction of pain, improvement in attention, lessening of stress, modulation of agitation, lowering of as needed medications, antipsychotics and reduction of falls.” (2012)’*

It is said that a significant positive outcome was observed when looking at what gardening can offer. Other benefits may include increased cognitive function, reduced BMI, stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, mood disturbance, and an overall increase in the quality of life.

What Are the Tasks You Could Learn with Horticultural Therapy?

Care Farming is giving the individual the chance to learn some new practical skills as they recover. These can include all aspects of food production- from seed sowing, through transplanting, and all aspects of plant management including watering, weeding and harvesting. There is a lot to learn as each plant likes a certain environment, to be with certain plant friends, and needs specific instructions to thrive- much like us humans!

Whilst there is a lot to learn about the plant world, Care Farming also offers the opportunity for social interaction and the ability to engage in a community.

Why Do People Suffer from PTSD?

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common symptoms of PTSD:
Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Being easily startled or frightened.
Always being on guard for danger.
Self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking too much or driving too fast.
Trouble sleeping.
Trouble concentrating.
Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behaviour.
Overwhelming guilt or shame.
According to the Centre For Mental Health the rate of PTSD in ex-servicemen in the UK is around 4% with that rising depending on what their role was in the military. For example, with combat troops this figure rises to 6% and sometimes as high as 11%.

You do not need to be a soldier or to be in the armed forces to find yourself with PTSD. A difficult childhood, a bad relationship, a nasty car accident, the loss of a loved one, and many other incidents in every day life can contribute to PTSD or complex PTSD. Where the incident occurred once, it is called PTSD, & complex PTSD is where the challenge happened over an extended period of time.

And so many people with addictions or depression, stress or anxiety could be carrying PTSD without even knowing it.

Clearly PTSD and complex PTSD are complicated issues that depend very much on the person’s history and life circumstance. Some people just don’t seem to be as affected by life’s challenges as others. For those of us who are affected deeply by the struggles we face, there are options that can help you.

Where Can I Find Out About Care Farming?

The best place in the UK to find out about Care Farming is by contacting Social Farms & Gardens and looking to see what is available in your area. There is a concerted effort to increase the number of places available to the public in the UK over the coming years due to the steady increase in numbers of people presenting with mental health issues. It is a small sector that is growing year on year, with more and more Care Farms opening all the time.

If your doctor knows about Social Prescribing, and is aware of a local project, they may be able to refer you that way. Otherwise, social services, the NHS, mental health charities and other organisations that work with people who suffer from PTSD would be a good place to start.

Wild Nettle Gardens

As of Oct 2020, Wild Nettle Gardens is a project that has been set up to develop a market garden to grow and sell salad, herbs, veg, fruit, and flowers. We will be using the market garden to also set up a Care Farm to help those with PTSD. We are actively looking for the land in the Bristol/ Somerset region of the country and then we will set about getting the project set up. We have been cultivating plants in readiness for getting started - you can see those if you look for Wild Nettle Gardens on Youtube.

If you are able to help in anyway or have any questions, please get in touch via the website – Wild Nettle or on Facebook – Wild Nettle Gardens

N.B. References.

*Detweiler, M. B., Sharma, T., Detweiler, J. G., Murphy, P. F., Lane, S., Carman J., Chudhary, A. S., Halling, M. H., …

Kim, K.Y., (2012). What is the evidence to support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly? Psychiatry investigation, 9 (2), 100-10.
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