Woman digging in an allotment

Lucy’s story

Dorothy House Occupational Therapist Lucy Burley talks about how therapeutic horticulture is improving the lives of people with life limiting illness.

‘I joined Dorothy House in 2011 as an Occupational Therapist and work across all our occupational therapy services, including leading a weekly allotment group and co- leading our weekly COPE course for patients and carers at the Dorothy House outreach centre at Trowbridge.

My inspiration for bringing therapeutic horticulture to Dorothy House was an article I read about Incredible Edible Todmorden, a town in Yorkshire where the whole community has embraced gardening. Although my horticulture knowledge is limited, I have enthusiasm and a passion to want to enable our patients and their families to continue gardening or to learn new skills at a time when life for them is challenging. Research shows that engaging with nature-based activities and being outdoors improves both physical and mental health and helps people cope better with symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and anxiety.  Working alongside others with similar worries reduces the feeling of isolation and helps build confidence.

In April 2012, I led a group of patients, carers, the bereaved and volunteers over six weeks to design, source materials and plant up an apothecary garden which continues to grow at our Trowbridge outreach centre. In November 2013 we embarked on a similar project at our Peasedown St John outreach centre – this time creating an alpine garden in a raised bed.

In April 2014 Trowbridge Council and the Gloucester Road Allotment Association gave us a raised bed to cultivate in their community allotments. Our occupational therapy-led Plot to Plate group was born and we’ve used this space every week since then. We’ve now got two raised beds and in 2016 managed a ground plot, too.  Facilities at the site include level wheelchair friendly paths, an accessible toilet and a club hut for refreshments. For the past three years the group has won awards from Trowbridge in Bloom, including Best Raised Bed, The Lisa Denny Cup in 2014 and the prestigious Chairman’s Award in 2016.

Following the success of this project, I decided to work towards a qualification in social and therapeutic horticulture so I applied for – and won – the Charles Notcutt bursary via Thrive – a national charity whose vision is to enable those touched by disability to transform their lives using gardening. The £550 bursary enabled me to complete a two-day course in social and therapeutic horticulture. Part of the course entailed an assignment detailing the setting up a programme for people within end of life care and adapting activities to enable people to continue to engage in gardening despite physical or emotional challenges.  I successfully gained my award in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in February 2017.

I was delighted to win the bursary and am very grateful to both the Notcutt family and to Thrive for providing me with this opportunity. The knowledge I’ve gained is invaluable. The allotment Plot to Plate group continues to meet every Tuesday. The group is open to patients, carers and the bereaved so if you’re interested, do contact your nurse specialist for further information. Throughout the season we grow vegetables and fruit which is used by the group as well as by our kitchen chefs at Winsley for patients’ and staff meals.

This award has given me the confidence to progress the use of horticulture as a therapeutic tool as part of our Live Well services. I’d now like to broaden the opportunities for gardening across the hospice to enable patients and families unable to access our community allotment to engage with gardening activities.’