For more than a year of restricted movement, the importance of getting out into nature has never been more apparent to all of us.
Being isolated from friends, family, work colleagues and the usual outlets we depend on for connections and recreation, the great outdoors has been there for us.
Closest to home, the garden has been a place of calm, tranquillity and inspiration during a period of great uncertainty. But it’s not just enjoyment that people glean from gardening – the act of weeding, planting and pottering helps relieve stress, gives people a great sense of purpose, reduces our chances of Alzheimer’s Disease and even strengthens our immune systems.
At AMH New Horizons, clients are lucky to be able to get green-fingered through a variety of courses designed to encourage the hidden horticulturist in each of them.
Eve Stott, Skills Coach at AMH New Horizons Antrim is delighted to have recently welcomed clients back to its impressive garden, complete with greenhouses and raised planting beds.
“The garden has stood empty for over a year, so for these first few weeks our focus has been on tidying up and getting the glasshouse ready to start planting seedlings again. The clients are able to come back to the service and be outside in the fresh air, socially distanced, but enjoying the connection with nature and with each other, able to have conversations and learn skills from one another,” she said.
The garden has already been planted with cherry tomato plants, chilli peppers and mangetout peas and the process of sewing a variety of flowers and vegetables in seed trays is now well underway too.
“Sunflowers and sweet pea seedlings are growing well, and we have runner beans, peppers, alfalfa, and poppies in seed trays that we will hopefully see germinate soon!” she said.
Clients have been enjoying a variety of gardening exercises, from planting runner beans in seed trays to transplanting mangetout peas into the ground which will be trained to grow up into a tepee made of bamboo canes. They are also undertaking a ‘Seeds at Home’ project, which will cater for those who have yet to return to the service since the lockdown closure.
“We are dropping off bags of soil, seeds and pots, including some recycled household items like butter tubs and mushroom trays, in which clients can learn to grow plants at home on their window ledges via zoom,” Eve added.
Deborah McCready, Project Worker with AMH everyBODY is a self-proclaimed ‘city girl’, who for the first time in years is surrounded by fields, following the purchase of her first home.
“I must say there’s something immediately calming and grounding about stepping outside the back door for a few minutes in the morning with my coffee and hearing nothing but the birds; it instils a sense of calm for what is usually a busy day ahead.
“This new environment has also led me to feel inspired to buy some house plants and flowers for the window. I’m not the most green-fingered, but there’s something satisfying about giving a plant care and watching it grow! I will have to get down to Action Mental Health’s Tannaghmore Gardens, located at AMH New Horizons Craigavon & Banbridge, for some gardening tips.”
Belfast client Paula McGibbon feels blessed to have a garden in which stands a lovely apple tree and where she can plant lots of beautiful thing in pots.
It’s a lovely spot to sit.
“Now more than ever, my garden is a place I go to take a deep breath, listen to the birds singing and enjoying the company of my cats. I have turned to nature to calm all the noise in my head.”
Aodhan Fagan, a client at AMH New Horizons Belfast admits he hasn’t always been a keen gardener until the pandemic brought out a keen interest.
“Throughout the various lockdowns and with help from family and AMH New Horizons I have begun to really love the garden. I have planted many things, including plants and vegetables, like carrots, thanks to AMH and Groundwork NI who provided me with seeds and soil growing containers and they continue to regrow.
“Through the gaps in lockdown regulations, we got a garden bench where I love to sit out and count the various birds that we feed. There is quite a variety in our South Belfast garden. Connecting with nature and enjoying many cups of tea have really helped me find comfort and solace with my own mental health throughout a stressful lockdown. I recently planted a cactus but that is a more long-term project!” he added.
Meanwhile in AMH New Horizons Fermanagh, our Skills Coach Colin Brennan and our Horticulture clients have been working through the winter growing plants from seeds and cuttings. In the past they have worked with Willowbridge Special School in Enniskillen and they are currently developing a garden for the students, spreading the joy of connecting with nature. Colin and his team have recently visited the school and donated a number of plants to their planting scheme, bringing colour, and interest to their emerging garden!
Sam potting courgette seedlings in the polytunnel in AMH New Horizons Fermanagh. Sam planted these from seed at home during lockdown!