After working for Thrive, THE social and therapeutic horticulture association in England, Fiona Thackeray founded Trellis, a Scottish association that has made its mission to “support health through horticulture.” “We exist because those who practice horticultural therapy are often alone in their institutions. They do not have co-workers. We become a peer group for them. They often start a program in response to a need. They come to us for ideas. We organize events to share best practices or to discuss topics such as evaluation which some programs are into more than others,” Thackeray says. The association’s website also lists employment opportunities. Members of Trellis work with patients in a variety of situations including head injuries, strokes, dementia, addictions, developmental disabilities, mental health issues as well as with homeless people.
242 HT projects throughout Scotland
“A new trend we are seeing is children with multiple disorders. But we are also very active in retirement homes where residents are locked up and do not have the opportunity to get out. Access to a garden is a right and there are many benefits as a lot of research has shown,” she adds. Trellis employs three part-time staff members and seven freelance consultants. They are the ones who answer questions from members and might even give them a hand in situ, helping a hospice whose HT program is in crisis for lack of money or a garden that needs to be made wheelchair-accessible. All in all, members of Trellis represent 242 projects in Scotland and northern England. “There are probably twice as many programs out there. There are programs in most prisons, for example. When I visit a hospital, I often discover four or five projects,” Thackeray admits.
Trellis offers on-demand training for healthcare staff such as occupational therapists or nurses. These training sessions will take place whenever enough people have expressed an interest. The goal is to address several topics: adapting activities to various pathologies, but also financing or promoting HT programs. In the UK, training for healthcare workers faces an arduous accreditation process. To make things worse, the body providing accreditations has shut the door to new disciplines such as HT. “Many people who practice have no training in either healthcare or horticulture. It is difficult to get recognition for their experience.” Thackeray hopes to get accreditation for some of Trellis’ training modules, rather than for an entire degree.
A doctor’s order
However, Thackeray sees many signs of hope in Scotland. “Gardening is in vogue. The Queen’s doctor spoke publicly of studies about gardening and stress, gardening and pain. In poor neighborhoods where many patients have complex health problems, general practitioners are doing “green prescription”. They encourage patients to join gardening groups for the physical and social benefits.”
Fiona also looks beyond Scotland. She has been contacting other HT organizations in Europe, particularly in France. She is currently preparing an application for a European Union funded project that would allow HTs to share good practice ideas and support each others’ networks and efforts. The application is due in the spring. In the meanwhile, Trellis will hold its annual conference on March 12.