A gardening group has been running for nearly four months now at all-female hostel Queen Mary’s.
Many of the women who live there have mental health issues. The goal of the group is to both renovate the garden and create a sanctuary for all of the residents and staff.
They meet weekly, even in cold and wet weather, to clear the garden and cultivate a welcoming, well-cared for space. They are guided by a horticultural therapist from gardening charity Thrive, who told us about the improvement she has seen in one of the women she works with:
“When Nina* joined the project she was very anxious and didn’t talk to me or any of the other residents. She took a tool from my hands and worked in a different part of the garden to the majority of the group.
“She struggled to make decisions, and conversations with her were difficult and protracted. When she did speak it was in a tiny muffled voice, making it very hard to hear or understand her. But once she chose a task in the first session, she stuck with it for the next four weeks, revealing hidden strength and determination.
“Her lack of communication seemed to be making her very lonely. Her self-worth was so low that she could not believe she was of any use, or could do anything but the simplest tasks.
“I spoke to her quietly away from the group and prompted her with more information about different tasks. I worked alongside her peacefully to start off with, getting her more used to some companionship.
“I then started to ask her questions that would need longer answers, and found ways to make the conversation continue for two or three ‘rounds’. I deliberately worked alongside to her so that the dialogue was not face-to-face, making the questions feel less direct.
“I finally set her up with a job alongside another customer, albeit someone who is also quieter and works away from the rest of the group. She became comfortable with this.
“When I felt that she was more comfortable with the group routine I asked her to try some different tasks. Her immediate response was that she would not be able to do it, but when she tried, she was fine. I made sure to praise and compliment her when she was successful.
“She is now willing to try new jobs, with almost no hesitation. She checks that she is both using the tools and doing the job correctly.
“She also sits and chats with the group at lunch, and makes a point of greeting others at the start of the day and saying goodbye and thank you at the end. She voices her opinions when asked and even offers further suggestions, such as that the wall behind the trellis be painted as well.
“When I set her up to work with another customer she made a point of thanking them for helping her. She has also offered to help others tidy up at the end of a job. This kindness has led to others showing her gratitude in return, for instance by giving her warm outdoor clothes for working in the garden over the winter.
“She is gaining confidence slowly and is chatting, smiling, and seems generally more relaxed. Other activities and her new friends within the hostel will help to alleviate her feelings of isolation.
“She wants to do some volunteering but feels anxious about this change, but I am pointing out that she is more than capable, using her progress in the group to illustrate this.
“She attends Mind and is learning to use a computer. I am planning to reinforce this with our plans for plant information sheets, researched and completed on the computers in the activity room.
“Finally, as with all physical activity, her health has improved. Good physical health supports good mental health!”