For those of you who are gardeners, you will already understand the healing qualities that gardening can bring. Whilst physical exercise can help you lose weight, getting involved in growing and caring for plants can help the mind too. One mental health recovery service in Wilcote, West Oxfordshire, has been providing social and therapeutic horticulture to adults in a working garden for 26 years and they have identified just how gardening can help people. Bridewell Gardens is a mental health charity which works with people with enduring mental health issues. Collectively the social and therapeutic horticulture practitioners working at Bridewell Gardens use gardening as a hands-on activity that helps individuals transform their lives. By encouraging people to get involved, taking on new challenges, working outdoors and becoming part of a team, this can provide people who are often isolated due to their mental health issues, to take a positive step towards their long-term recovery. The impact of social and therapeutic gardening for service users, known as gardeners, is well evidenced. There is a reduction in anxiety, depression and feelings of stress; their self-esteem, mood and psychological wellbeing improves, their ability to concentrate and understand a task in hand improves and their overall sense of belonging and being part of a team enables them to overcome many issues that have impinged their lives.
Covering an area of five acres, between 60 and 70 gardeners supported by the charity each year, can work at Bridewell Gardens for anything from a couple of months to a couple of years; the team work to support people as they regain confidence to take up more active roles in the community, whether returning to work, taking up a voluntary role, training, or education. Bridewell supports people with mental health problems from across Oxfordshire but due to the garden’s geographical location, most service users are from West Oxfordshire.
The gardens have been created in such a way as to provide a supportive environment for people experiencing serious mental health problems, to work alongside staff and volunteers enabling them to rebuild their confidence and self-esteem whilst caring for the area in which they work.
Due to Covid-19, Bridewell Gardens are closed to the public until further notice. When it reopens, be sure to experience one of its open days. You will have the chance to explore a picturesque walled garden which includes a potager, a cottage garden, a lavender lined grass avenue, rose arches, espaliered apple trees, a fruit cage, herb wheel, raised beds and areas for annual bedding. There is also a working forge and woodworking area as well as a large polytunnel for seed sowing and other indoor work. The vineyard is planted with Phoenix and Orion grape varieties and each year they produce sparkling wine available through various outlets in Oxfordshire. The whole site is managed using organic practices and their vineyard is certified organic.
Director of Bridewell Gardens, Ruth Madder, adds: “Our open days are extremely popular, and they provide a way for people who are interested in gardening to see how our wonderful team of gardeners, practitioners and volunteers work together to create a truly beautiful place to be.”