Garden of Recovery

Grow Wild meets the women in Coleraine, Northern Ireland who have transformed a space outside their mental health centre into a beautiful ‘Garden of Recovery’, to pay forward the help they have received…

Four pairs of legs around a mosaic saying Love Happiness Inspiration Comfort Wisdom StrengthThe moment I enter the waiting room at Coleraine Mental Health Resource Centre it’s clear this isn’t your average health centre. The usual timeworn posters adorning whitewashed walls have been replaced by colourful artworks, and mini handmade sculptures of leaves and acorns are arranged skilfully on the waiting room table.

Denise is a psychotherapist by trade, but her role encompasses art, literature, and gardening too. She’s in the garden when I meet her, with her art group, three women who have designed and created an impressive landscaped garden just behind the centre.

Lady in sunglasses sitting on a wall next to a rockery“I’m a mover and a shaker, but without the energy and expertise of these three ladies this wouldn’t have happened,” Denise tells me, proudly surveying the garden.  

Denise had originally applied to the mental health trust for funding to do the project, but when she didn’t get it she found another way to make it happen, seeking alternative sources of funding and relying on the community to pitch in with the creation.

“I’ve been described as tenacious,” she says smiling, and I can believe it, “when you get a set back you’ve just got to keep going and find a way,” she says, and I wonder if she's referring to mental health recovery as well as the garden. 

“Within half an hour of finding out we didn’t get the funding, we’d come out here and Carol had drawn up a design,” Denise says, “Carol’s very good at design, and architecture and building and all that.

“Then Carol’s dad came down with a digger and did all the landscaping. I was jumping up and down with joy when I saw him!” Denise says.

Lady sitting on a stone path next to a mosaic with the word Move and footprintsCarol shows me around the garden, telling me she had a breakdown two years after finishing University. “I thought it was the worst thing that could happen because I had followed the usual path of Uni, then a job and nobody tells you it’s ok to take a break or do a U-turn,” Carol says.

“The lines [on my mosaic] represent my architecture background, very regimented – like how you get told life is – the feet are just me doing my own thing, walking all over it,” she smiles.

“When I had therapy, one thing that came out of it for me was to just keep moving and keep going in whatever direction it takes you. The feet are me taking my own journey and making my own way in life.”

“Before I came here I was afraid of my feelings, but there’s no judgment here. Before I joined this group I wouldn’t tell anyone I was in therapy, but now I’ll tell anyone because I feel safe saying it, there’s not the same stigma now” Carol says.

Three ladies sitting together in a garden rife with colour and rockeriesAs I watch the women chatting over their cups of tea, it’s clear they have formed close bonds with one another and have put a lot of love, care and pride into creating the garden.

“There’s no barriers between me being a practitioner and them being service users. We’ve all created this together.” Denise says, “Mel has a greenhouse, so she has grown plants for the garden and brought them down.”

Mel smiles at me. “I would be outside morning to night if I could, I find it very relaxing,” she says, later sharing that she lost her daughter some years ago and her son more recently, triggering her to have a breakdown.

Lady sitting next to a stone carvingLearn character from trees, value from roots and change from leaves

“Being a service user it’s nice to feel you’re giving something back, after having received so much help from Denise. It’s nice knowing that we have created this for other people here who are going through a hard time to enjoy as well, that means a lot.” Mel says.

“It’s amazing when you’re out in the garden how many people stop and want to ask about the garden and learn about the plants.” Mel adds, “It’s a shared space, a safe space.”

“The first day I came I was so nervous, I wouldn’t have even come out of the house at that stage, but Denise said just come and if you need to leave you can. I’m so glad I did. It lifts you being here, you go home happier.”

“Yeah, it gets me out and clears my head,” Ailsa agrees. Ailsa tells me she is a single parent due to difficult circumstances and has a child with a learning difficulty, “it’s good to socialise with other adults, not just children all the time.” She laughs.

Two people looking at a bright green painting of a tree across several canvasesHands pointing towards a mosaic on the path saying PeaceThe art and garden the women have created is impressive, to say the least, and has given them a common purpose and space where they can gain strength from sharing their experiences and their skills.

“Everyone will experience some adversity in life,” Denise says “it’s about how you deal with it and it’s about having the chance to work through it. That’s what gives you the tools to deal with it the next time.”

“I am not what I have been through, I am what I have become,” Mel says sipping her tea.

The women have sown wildflower seeds from their Grow Wild seed kit along the borders of the garden and are looking forward to seeing the extra colour pop up along the fencing. I ask them to keep us posted!

Mosaic saying Garden of Recovery at the beginning of a stone path

If you would like a seed kit to create a wildflower haven in your town, apply today!

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