June 25, 2024

Dr Olivia Chapple OBE hosts symposium on connecting people with nature in Horatio’s Garden South West

On Monday 24th June, Horatio’s Garden Founder and Chair of Trustees, Dr Olivia Chapple OBE, hosted a symposium on connecting people with nature in the stunning surroundings of Horatio’s Garden South West, acting in her capacity as High Sheriff of Wiltshire.

Olivia was appointed to the role of High Sheriff of Wiltshire in April of this year. Speaking of her goals during her official Declaration ceremony, Olivia said: “As High Sheriff, I hope to encourage people to connect with nature and embrace spending time outside in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside. Spending time in gardens and green spaces is so important, not only for our physical health, but also our mental and spiritual health.”

To work toward this goal, Olivia invited around 70 individuals from in and around Wiltshire to come to Horatio’s Garden South West and share their thoughts on how best to connect people with nature in the county. The day was a huge success, featuring a range of enlightening talks from a number of inspiring individuals.

After Olivia introduced the event, the first speaker was Cleve West. Cleve runs an award-winning garden and landscape design studio, and has been designing gardens since 1990. He is the designer of Horatio’s Garden South West, the first garden opened by the charity and the location of Monday’s symposium. Cleve spoke about how his interest in horticulture began, seen in his early life in how his aunt’s garden helped her to cope with the difficulties of old age. He discussed his connection with Horatio’s Garden and with the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury District Hospital, where he had visited a friend following their spinal injury prior to being approached to design the garden. Cleve focused in large part on biodiversity and the climate, and the difference as a garden designer between creating ecosystems and ‘egosystems’, indulgent projects which fail to support nature. He concluded with a powerful sentiment, stating: “We are a part of nature, not apart from nature.”

Cleve was followed by Elizabeth Williams, the Learning and Schools Manager at HMP Erlestoke. Elizabeth spoke about the positive impacts that the greenery surrounding the prison, which is located in the grounds of an old manor house in Wiltshire, has on the people spending time there. Horticultural qualifications are encouraged, and the chance for some people to see a plant grow for the first time has enormous benefits for self-worth and recovery. Elizabeth mentioned her interest in collaborating others and seeking new opportunities for partnering and re-settlement. While impact can be hard to measure, it was evident that having access to greenery and a range of wildlife (including a pair of ducks who have recently settled in the ground) makes a real difference to peoples’ experience of life in prison.

The next speaker was Dr Celia Grummit, CEO of Gul Outdoor Therapy, who drew on her experience as a GP to discuss the medical model of nature-based therapy. Gul Outdoor Therapy primarily provides equine facilitated interventions, wherein horses are used to improve wellbeing, but the charity also provides outdoor education, navigation, work placements, apprenticeships, gardening and more. Celia explained that these activities constitute ‘Green Care’, a model for therapeutic assistance involving structured and facilitated intervention led by a trained practitioner and taking place in natural surroundings. Such processes recognise the instinctive connection between nature and health, which Celia also explained by making reference to the ‘biophilia hypothesis’, a theory originating from Edward O. Wilson in 1984 and positing that humans are genetically predisposed to be attracted to nature. Celia’s use of the medical model was a fascinating way of discussing and describing the link between nature and wellbeing, which is at the core of her organisation.

Ashley Edwards, Head Gardener of Horatio’s Garden London & South East, was the next to speak. Ashley described his journey in horticulture, growing up in a council flat and spending time in his neighbour’s ground floor garden before eventually training at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He went on to discuss BBC Gardeners’ Question Time, where he is now a regular contributor. Ashley provided brilliant behind-the-scenes insights into the process of recording the show, before reflecting on what it has taught him about the importance of being his authentic self in the media, and the importance of representation in horticulture. Social media can also be a valuable tool to connect with other horticulturalists, and Ashley shared some tips on how to succeed online. Above all, he recommended authenticity and encouraged attendees not to worry about waiting until their content is ‘perfect’ – if you are interested in something, that will come across to your audience!

Breaking up the day, Ashley’s talk was followed by a participatory session on mindfulness in nature, lead by nature coach Simon Lamb. Attendees were guided through a combination of breathwork exercises and mindful movements, drawing on the practices of qigong. Simon shared the Zen Buddhist story of the tigers and the strawberries, which stresses the importance of looking for joy and positivity even in difficult times, before encouraging the audience to walk around the beautiful garden and share what they themselves were grateful for. The session was highly interactive and enjoyable, allowing everyone to connect even more both with each other and with nature.

Sue Phipps, Deputy Chairman of the National Garden Scheme, then gave a talk about gardens and health, focusing on the purpose of the National Garden Scheme since it was founded nearly 100 years ago. Their two main aims are to raise money and to demonstrate the relationship between gardens and health. Sue described the close relationships they have with their beneficiary charities, including Horatio’s Garden, as well as their provision of community garden grants between £1,000-5,000. Gardens which are funded by the National Garden Scheme will often go on to open their gates to raise money for it, creating what Sue described as a ‘virtuous circle’ and demonstrating the supportive community that is horticulture.

Next to speak was Alan Holland, Manager at TWIGS Community Gardens, who focused on gardening and mental health. The beautiful gardens at TWIGS are green sanctuaries in the middle of Swindon, and have been running for 25 years. They are also a resource offering people with mental health problems the chance to regain confidence and self esteem, and to learn new skills. Alan described how engaging with nature through horticultural therapy can be a powerful way of reducing stress and finding a sense of purpose. Describing how gardens provide physical, mental and spiritual health as he concluded, Alan said: “As I’m working on the garden, the garden is working on me.”

Lastly, Imogen Jackson, Adult Wellbeing Programme Lead at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, discussed the evaluation of horticulture and nature-based interventions. Imogen has a personal connection with Horatio’s Garden, having worked previously as Head Gardener of Horatio’s Garden Midlands. She explained the importance of better evaluation, which can provide access to more funding streams, before acknowledging that evaluating horticultural therapy can be a real challenge – for example, difficulties can occur when beneficiaries feel burdened by feedback forms, and when their concerns about losing access to therapy lead to skewed results. Imogen’s talk was highly relevant to everyone present, offering an insight into how the importance of connecting with nature can be quantified and evaluated.

With all talks having been concluded, attendees of the symposium enjoyed a delicious vegan and gluten free lunch, and the ability to talk and network among themselves.

The day ended with a collaborative session, where all attendees came together to discuss the challenges and solutions that exist when trying to connect people with nature in Wiltshire. Challenges that were identified included funding, motivating people, accessing land and finding volunteers, while solutions included building relationships with businesses, creating collaborative bids, and emphasising the importance of fun. Overall, the value of networking and providing support between organisations was stressed – by coming together at events like Olivia’s symposium, the community of people promoting connection with nature will only grow stronger.

We are so grateful to everyone who joined us! It was a wonderful event, and we look forward to following the future success of all speakers and attendees.

Share this:

Keep in touch

Sign-up to hear the latest news and activities from Horatio’s Garden

By completing this form, you confirm that you are aged 18 years or over and that you are happy to receive emails from Horatio’s Garden in accordance with our Privacy Policy. We will never share your details with anyone else without your express permission.

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping