At Kelmarna, we support many members of our community with mental health needs or intellectual disability to garden for therapeutic purposes with us.
One in six New Zealand adults (16%, or an estimated 582,000 adults) has been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives. Mental health is one of our most pressing concerns, and healthcare providers everywhere are looking for effective, cost-efficient, community-based therapies.
Horticultural therapy is an established form of “care farming”, defined as the therapeutic use of farming practices for individuals with a defined need. The outdoor, practical and caregiving aspects of gardening, especially in a community context, have consistently been shown to be an effective therapy for a wide range of mental health conditions.
At Kelmarna, we support individuals directly throughout the week, and through relationships with partner organisations.
How therapeutic gardening works at Kelmarna
Participants in our horticultural therapy programme are supported to learn about the practices involved in organic food growing, contribute to maintenance across the farm, and help to prepare shared lunches. Our integrated and informal approach means that therapeutic gardeners often work with other volunteers, and contribute in many varied aspects of farm life.
Therapeutic gardeners also have the chance to look after their own plot at Kelmarna, with continued support and advice, as well as provision of all tools, plants and other materials. This allows them to take responsibility for care of their plants, observe natural processes through the seasons, and take home the produce that they grow, providing access to free, nutritious food.
Our therapeutic gardeners are supported by Adrian, our Community and Site Manager, from Monday to Friday, and some participants are also accompanied by a support worker. Our therapeutic gardeners typically have a regular day or days of the week when they come to garden with us.
Participants in our horticultural therapy programme come to us through referrals from community mental health services and other healthcare providers, as well as informal family and self-referrals.
We are currently at full capacity, and not able to take on any new therapeutic gardeners, unless accompanied by a support worker or other support person.
If you’re interested in participating or referring a client, friend, or family member, please contact Adrian at email@example.com.
We increase our impact in the community by providing access to our unique site and staff resources through a number of partnerships:
If your organisation would be interested in partnering with us, please contact Adrian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary-Rose* is a regular therapeutic gardener at Kelmarna:
"I try to volunteer Tuesday and Wednesday of every week, and that’s to make sure that I commit to something. Once I’m able to commit to something, no matter if I’m depressed or not, then I can go and get a part-time job in the workforce, so I try very hard to make that commitment.
When you’re not working it’s very important to keep that social contact. Even when I’m depressed, and I hate my life when I’m depressed, I can leave here feeling better than if I stayed at home. Even though it can be hard to go anywhere, because often when I’m depressed I just want to stay in bed.
I feel the best after a day here, because it’s quite physical, so I have really good sleeps, I don’t often need to take a sleeping pill that night, most nights I do have to take one.
You feel kind of healthy, and you have the best lunches in the world here. That’s something to really look forward to, because we get the produce from the garden, we all sit around the table, and we share a meal. It’s a nice thing that you’re volunteering your time, but you get this amazing lunch.
What I love about Kelmarna is that you have both people from the community that are really well and high-functioning, and then you also have people with mental health issues, that can be wide-ranging. I think people come here because they need to have some sort of community and I felt straight away that I could be part of this community.
The fact that I’m not judged and people accept me, and we accept each other, that’s really important to me, especially for my mental health. Because every other job, I’ve never been able to say anything about my condition, not a thing, and that’s been really hard to have that bottled up inside.
I’d never done any gardening before, but I actually love it now. It’s something that I never had before, but for the rest of my life now I have something that I love doing, that I can do on my own, and really love it. That’s why I love it so much, because you can do it with people, it can be a communal thing, or I can do it on my own when I’m at home.”
*Mary-Rose's name has been changed to respect her privacy.