How gardening can be the best therapy.
It was last autumn that we first welcomed our gardening tutor, Julia Durbin, to SCT.
The trees in our gardens had just started turning a burnt orange and people were still lounging in the grass enjoying the last of the year’s warmth.
St Leonard’s Gardens – which sits adjacent to our Recovery Hub and the Homeless Drop-In – is carefully maintained by our students and volunteers throughout the year.
For many years, the garden was largely unused by the local community. But thanks to the work of people in recovery from addiction, St Leonard’s Church and Hackney Council, on bright days the quirky benches and grassy areas are usually filled with people enjoying the sun.
As a qualified horticultural therapist, Julia has joined SCT to carry on this project and help more students benefit from the healing benefits of gardening.
After graduating as a plant scientist, Julia started her career at Kew Gardens, and proceeded to travel the world as a science journalist for BBC Radio Four and the World Service for many years. But while she was at the BBC, Julia realised she wanted to give back.
Julia revealed that she had grown up in a council estate in Cardiff and “had been very lucky” to get some “really fabulous” jobs.
One day, she was sitting next to someone at a folk gig who happened to be the Chief Executive of Providence Row – the homeless charity – who were starting a therapeutic garden. So, she decided to volunteer.
“I soon developed a passion for it. Just to see what having your hands in the soil does to people is a privilege.
“To be human is to tell your story and people who have had very troubled lives will often talk to you while you are working side by side.
“And the garden is a very lovely place to do that. Because if you need to be alone, there is always somewhere you can be alone and if you need to be talk then there is always someone to work with,” Julia explained.
It was not long before Julia qualified in social and therapeutic horticulture and eventually came to SCT.
And she has big plans! She wants to develop a small sensory garden, to use the garden to supply the Recovery Hub with fresh fruit and vegetables and to encourage even more people into the garden.
Julia said: “I feel passionate about what getting into the garden can do for people. It’s that ability to nurture something, and in nurturing something else, you nurture yourself.
“I always tell people that every gardener has wept into a flower bed, and the flowers are just grateful for the water.
“I really love the people coming to SCT. It’s not just great fun, but it’s so good seeing them get into the moment while they’re gardening; it’s a form of meditation.”
The students love it too! Stephen has been gardening with Julia for a few months and explained that “gardening is a bit like looking after yourself”.
He added: “In gardening, you learn patience and how to be kind to yourself. If you can be kind to a tree or a patch of earth you can be kind to yourself. It is that self-care, looking after yourself properly, not just putting on band aids to cover deep wounds.”