…… or the story of therapeutic horticulture

Last year I heard a podcast by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee when he interviewed Johann Hari about his book called ‘Lost connections’.  It really struck a chord with me, and a few months later when I had the opportunity to lease a walled garden behind our clinic at Luck’s Yard it inspired me to see if we could use the secret piece of land for a community project to support teenagers.

Johan Hari is an international bestselling author. His first book, ‘Chasing the Scream’ became a best seller and is being adapted into a Hollywood film.  The book was a Sunday Times and New York Times best seller. His TED talk has had more than 20 million views.

Lost Connections is filled with stories from people that he has interviewed from all across the world and is driven by a quest to understand why we get depressed and if antidepressants actually work.  Johann explains how he himself was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as a teenager and prescribed antidepressants for 17 years, each time with a bigger and bigger dose.  He was told it was due to serotonin deficiency; that is was biological, and therefore needed to be medicated.  But it never worked for very long so he set out on a quest to understand why we get depressed and anxious and also why medication has been the common answer for so long.  The book is also filled with research from scientists that he has met along this journey.

Depression and anxiety are now at epidemic levels across the world and in the book he discussed many different causes that scientists have uncovered. Some are in biology but many are thought to be from the way we live today.

The causes they have found are:

  • Disconnection from meaningful work.
  • Disconnection from other people.
  • Disconnection from meaningful values.
  • Disconnection from childhood trauma.
  • Disconnection from status and respect.
  • Disconnection from the natural world.
  • Disconnection from a hopeful and secure future.
  • The real role of genes and brain changes.

Each chapter follows Johann’s journey across the globe talking to scientists and real people. One of the stories that stood out for me was about the people in a socially and financially deprived  housing estate in Berlin. This story moved me so much it really made me realise what you can do when a group of people work together. Do read this if you get a chance.

The second story that inspired to us start the Wellbeing garden project was the story from East London at the Bromley-by-Bow centre. Several of our key volunteers had either read the book or hear the podcast like me, and felt compelled to do something local to help those who struggle with mental health.

This story is partially about Sam, one of the GPs at the community centre in East London where they ran many different activities for the local population, the aim of which was to get patients to reconnect with other people.  There was a deserted piece of land, sadly and pointedly called the ‘dog shit alley’ in the area where a GP decided to start a community garden project for some of his patients.

The book explains how many of the participants of this project found purpose and a sense of belonging by being part of this group and that it made a big difference to their mental health recovery.  In Dr. Chatterjee’s podcast Johann also described how this group started a WhatsApp group where they could connect and discuss issues around the garden. The people were from all walks of life and had various different backgrounds. But they all had a common goal, which was to make this park a nice place for people to walk through.

They initially learnt about seeds and plants and they discussed together what they wanted the park to look like. They had to learn about the rhythm of the seasons and the earth beneath their feet. As one of the volunteers said, “it is about commitment to something that might take a long time, and having the patience to do that.” The activity was slow and steady and there was no pressure to perform.

Slowly they started to get to know each other and help each other in different ways. One man was homeless and slept on a bus: they worked together to help him find housing, and being part of a caring group and getting support helped his depression.  As the park started to bloom, they could see the positive reaction from the people who walked through it and they would get thanks for looking after it. They started in a modest way to get a sense of purpose. They also started to get a sense that we are all similar and the same, whatever back ground, education or training we have. They also realised that they were now caring for others more than themselves which helped their own sense of inner balance. One volunteer said that as the garden came to life, they came to life too.

The members of the group developed a sense of pride through their work and felt that they had made something beautiful.

Sam the GP said he was trained to be the person who had the knowledge. But really he realised he needed to understand that his biggest job was to listen and the most of his consultations were about the emotional health of the patient.

This story was the seed that started the Wellbeing garden project for teens at Luck’s Yard. In eight months we have raised over £3000 from local supporters, dance schools, charities and our own workshops, and with this we have renovated a shelter for potting, planting and running workshops. We have run our three ‘connection’ workshops already from creating Christmas wreaths, teaching teens about resilience and a parent support workshop.

Please do spread the word by telling any parents of teens about these workshops as they will be really worthwhile to attend. These have been running at the library in Rodborough School and places are limited and we have had to extend places due to their popularity and positive interest. The link to these workshops can be found here: https://www.bookwhen.com/wellbeinggardenprojectforteens

In the Spring we hope to be able to welcome teens who will be referred by Dr. Triska and colleagues at the Witley and Milford surgery for therapeutic horticultural sessions. As we are working with teens there are a lot of health and safety issues we have to get in place first, but we are determined to make this happen and we are aware that we might be one of the first teen garden therapy projects in the country, so we will be pioneering a new model for mental and emotional health in young people. We are going to run small groups of 6-8 teens on Saturdays afternoons from 2-4 pm.

To find out more and see our other articles follow this link: https://www.lucksyardclinic.com/the-wellbeing-garden-at-lucks-yard/


We would love to get more volunteers who would like to help us in the garden once we start and we would also love to have any old but functioning garden tools, a green house or any plants and seeds that you don’t need. Everyone who works on this project does this voluntarily and all proceeds from workshops will go towards the garden project as well. We have made new friends and found that being part of this group has been good for us too.

If you email Tone at tone@lucksyardclinic.com she can put you in touch with one of our project managers to get you involved.

Thank you all for reading this article and we look forward to seeing this project take shape during 2020.

The Wellbeing garden project team at Luck’s Yard.