Trellis conference 2018 – an informative outing

On the sunny morning of 9 March, Jan, Jessie and Maggie set off to The Bield near Perth to take part in Trellis’ 2018 annual conference.

Trellis is concerned with all aspects of therapeutic gardening.  It supports over 300 gardening projects in Scotland, helping people ‘take care of their physical, emotional and social wellbeing’.  PLANT has been a member of this network for several years now and our delegates have always enjoyed attending the annual meeting, coming back beaming with new enthusiasm and ideas. Such sharing of practice has made an invaluable input into our work with Caley group over the last couple of years and will help with support for the new dementia group starting with us soon.

Below Jan, Jessie and Maggie share some of their impressions from this year’s event. Lots of interesting ideas to absorb!

Maggie: Gardening with people living with dementia

It was a lovely sunny day to drive down to The Bield…..even better when you are sitting in the back of the car and admiring all the views.

First impressions were that the conference was extremely well organised with roughly 120 people attending.  Name badges were given as you entered, alongside tea, coffee and the most wonderful cake! Then you had your choice, one out of each of the three group workshops to attend. Each group had at least eight workshops, so plenty of choice.  The main reason for my attendance was to listen to how we as PLANT could make life better for people suffering from dementia so naturally that was one of my group choices.

This talk was attended by about 40 people and was given by Sarah Noone who has just completed her PhD at the University of West Scotland, researching the experience of community gardening from the perspectives of people with dementia. Sarah is now focusing upon sharing her research findings, encouraging and supporting interested parties to involve people with dementia in gardening initiatives. Her talk was extremely informative giving lots of ideas for us about recruitment, session planning, activities and evaluation of what you have been doing.

A lovely lunch was then served and the workshops carrying on until 4.30 pm. A lovely day, meeting lots of people and lots of ideas to bring back to PLANT.

Jan: The many faces of therapeutic gardening

The Bield, with its beautiful gardens and a roomy conference facility, was a perfect setting for the conference.

Several of the attendees had display tables, showing the range of projects Trellis supports. I was particularly impressed by the merchandising that was done to enable small projects to raise much-needed funds, and also the SVQ qualifications in ‘therapeutic horticulture’ that have been developed by colleges.

Over the course of the day there were also a number showcases and workshops which I found particularly impressive.

Showcase 1 – NHS Borders – Sowing the Seeds for a Positive Recovery

This project, an allotment near a psychiatric ward, demonstrated the positive power of gardening in supporting people with acute mental health problems.  A former patient who now returns as a volunteer offered her experiences, describing how she gradually regained motivation and re-engaged with life through raising seedlings.  As well as anecdotal evidence, there was ‘hard’ data to demonstrate its effectiveness.  On the days that patients had access to the allotment, there was a significant drop in the medication used.  This helped justify the continued support of the project.

Showcase 2 – Dundee’s Community Gardens – Kate Treharne

Kate’s work in Dundee is outstanding.  Under her direction, Dundee now has four community gardens, each in an area in the bottom 10% or 5% SIMD.  Kate had so many positive stories about people becoming engaged in the gardens, it would be impossible to recount them.  However, the important messages I took from Kate’s presentation are:

  • Make use of the available data to justify funding
  • Keep projects open and inclusive (no shutting them off – people are encouraged to walk through)
  • Work closely with other local authority departments and use the resources that already exist (e.g. Community Services and the Community Pay-Back scheme; specialists like architectural technicians and engineers in the Council)
  • Recognise the importance of ‘being there’ to talk to curious ‘passers-by’
  • The value of a ‘graffiti wall’.
Workshop 1 – Bield Smallholding

This working smallholding is part of the Bield estate and it works with young people and adults with moderate to severe disabilities, most with autism. With only two paid members of staff and several volunteers, this is a self-funding project that must make money to exist.  The project provides an organic veg box scheme, growing the plants to fill and send out 19 veg boxes a week.  There is also an enormous annual sale where they sell plants they have raised.  The approach with volunteers is very sensitive to the needs of individuals, ensuring everyone feels included and that their contributions are valued.  The project makes interesting use of animals (goats, sheep and alpacas) who are there for purely therapeutic purposes.  The volunteers learn to work with the animals, anticipating their needs and moods.  For instance, the alpacas are easily startled so the young people learn that they must be quiet and calm if they want to feed and pet the animals.  The project makes use of everything – pallet furniture, recycling containers, turning sheds into workshops – and more.

The number one priority is safety – everything is risk-assessed although not necessarily written down.   It is a culture of being risk-aware.

Showcase 3 – Cultivating Futures – Rab Hayes, Polmont

This project was built around an exhibition of prison gardening work based on pallets.  Importantly, this wasn’t a competition because it was not about winning and losing.  It was intended to enhance positive engagement, celebrate success and build self-esteem.  As Rab said repeatedly, he is a non-gardener, but the project’s effectiveness stems from his enthusiasm and commitment rather than any technical expertise.  This has become an annual event hosted by a different prison each year.

Workshop 2 – Tour of the Bield Gardens

This was intended to be a tour of the Bield’s walled garden by the head gardener.  But because he felt that we would be quite restricted in what we could see due to the time of year, he took us on a tour of the grounds.  While the gardens were impressive, the various therapeutic aspects of the garden were more so.  Designed to enhance meditation and reflection, there are walkways and labyrinths, including one designed especially for wheelchair users (no gravel, on a hard surface that used to be the tennis court); a ‘sculpture’ garden that utilizes the twisted shapes that are remnants of rhododendron bushes; a ‘zen’ garden with gravel and a rake; a wonderful water feature made from the old curling pond, fringed on both sides with rather somber conifers, presumably planted to shade the ice from the sun.  The pond has been deepened and now has a small waterfall and an island for ducks.  Within the walled garden itself, the gardeners are doing a lot to promote biodiversity, using organic methods and encouraging pollinators.

Jessie: Adaptive garden design

The day had been full of stalls and presentations about exciting and energetic projects, and the final workshop on Adaptive Garden Design attended by Jan and myself was a delight. Karen Laing, an award winning Scottish garden designer, landscape architect, artist and gardener was a former team member with the Beechgrove Garden, and now a garden designer and specialist for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Karen focused mainly on her design for a small garden for people with spinal injuries.  The garden was beautiful, with adaptations for wheelchair users inconspicuously part of the design, allowing people with severe disabilities to enjoy and work in it.  Karen stressed the principle of participation, enjoyably enabling people and offering restoration and comfort as well as learning.  Her design emerges from repeated consultation with users at all stages.  Good practical tips were: densely planted perennials for low maintenance: and espalier fruit trees next door to paths which could be reached and cared for from a wheelchair.

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