The surprise of spring

Every spring I find I’m happily surprised by the sudden re-emergence of shoots and stems; the daffodils, the unfurling of ferns, the first bright green spears of chives. The sense of surprise at the unexpected awakening out of the ‘despair’ of winter, is beautifully captured in a poem called Snowdrops by Louise Gluck, which I have pinned to the wall over my desk.

‘I did not expect to survive, earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

 to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring..’

Although this year the surprise has been tempered somewhat by the fact that primroses and wild strawberries have been flowering in Leitrim since December, the giddy excitement is here, nonetheless. I’m itching to get my hands back into the soil to sow the first of my seeds. And so, I’ll begin by sowing tomatoes and chillies, which I’ll keep on an indoor windowsill beside a radiator to give them the heat they need to get going.

I’ll also be tackling the polytunnel, which is in need of a lot of attention. Last year during the bad snow, it was squatted by a sheep and her lambs and I didn’t have the heart to evict them. When they did eventually leave, I covered over the scatterings of manure with seaweed and cardboard in one half of the polytunnel. I’ve investigated the soil beneath over the course of the last few months, and it’s teaming with life. Visible through the crumbling mulch is a layer of white. This is the mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments called hyphae.  Fungi play a vital role in the decomposition process, because they can break down tough organic materials, such as cellulose and lignin.  I recently read a fascinating account of the intricate and complex interplay between fungi, bacteria, the health of our soil, and, of life itself, in a book called The Hidden Half of Nature by Anne Biklé and David R. Montgomery. It made me look at the white fungal mat in the polytunnel in a whole new light.  

My role as a horticultural therapy practitioner with GIY allows me turn towards the soil, especially at this time of year. The therapeutic benefits of engaging with Nature are being documented the world over, and include improved mental well-being, increased social inclusion, access to life-long learning and improved concentration and focus. However, as Parkinson et al concluded in a paper published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy with reference to a mental health service setting, ‘the benefits of engaging in horticultural activity are not automatic’.

So, what is it that determines the beneficial outcome of a Nature-based intervention like therapeutic horticulture? What do we mean when we talk about the practice of STH? How do we, as practitioners, maximise the potential therapeutic benefits?    

A new introductory Thrive-accredited course will answer these questions, and more!

Introduction to Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Practice will take place on Saturday March 23rd in GROW HQ. This course will provide a comprehensive overview of the role of the practitioner, as well as focusing on the approaches and processes which underpin practice in this discipline.     

More information on courses here

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