Health News - Horticulture project helps sufferers of mental illnesses tackle their problems in secret garden

John Mangan and David Jones have been helped by the Elm Village scheme

Published: 29 September, 2011

A SECRET garden that helps victims of debilitating mental illnesses get their lives back on track opened its doors to the public on Saturday.

The Elm Village Open Space in Barker Drive, Camden Town, which is run by Camden-based charity Jobs in Mind, also helps those who attend to gain employment skills.

While the project is about providing a safe-haven for people with mental health problems – from severe depression to schizophrenia – it is also about learning how to work the land, growing vegetables and building structures.

Anne Mary Miller, 52, from Camden Town, was referred to the garden in January after she was diagnosed with depression that left her housebound and feeling suicidal.

“It is therapeutic,” she said. “It gets me out of the house – gets me out of bed. I have somewhere to go to where I learn new things, meet new people. I get to keep busy here and then I don’t get the bad thoughts.”

The “community garden”, which began in the garden of St Michael’s Church in Camden Road, opened its doors to the public as part of a national scheme called Urban Growth.

John Mangan, 52, who has built a water-butt to hold diluted nettle tea, said: “I was lacking any kind of way to recover from my problems.

I was in an unbelievable state at the time, I was really low.

But this project appealed – being outside, I liked the idea of recovering outside.

“And now I am very close to an acceptable state of mind which is something I’ve been wanting for a decade. These illnesses are so terrible, you just can’t see a way out. But now I can.”

David Jones, 50, said: “This is the first time I have done proper gardening but it’s been great. I haven’t been here for the really bad weather yet though.

“Hopefully, at the end of it, I can become a landscaper.”

The Elm Village garden itself has an impressive herb bed boasting rosemary, mint and two different types of thyme.

Other beds constructed by the volunteers produce sweetcorn, blueberries, peas, carrots and the first ever outdoor-grown sweet potatoes in England – a nod to project leader Ian Ganessingh’s roots.

Mr Ganessingh has 25 years’ horticultural experience in Trinidad and Florida but upped sticks to London for a new challenge.

He said: “I really see the difference that this is making to the state of their minds. My sister suffered from depression and I created a backyard garden for her which she would look after. It added to her determination to get better, and I really think it was crucial to her recovery.”

The programme offers volunteers two to three days’ work on the vegetable garden each week as well as a weekly one-on-one therapy session.


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