Rachel Kelly
Writer, Mental Health Campaigner, Public Speaker

GROUNDING – therapeutic power of gardening

Myriam Sarens (left) & Dr Gemma Eke (right

Myriam Sarens is a Horticultural Therapist and Integrative Psychotherapist, offering gardening and therapy to refugees and asylum seekers as part of the Grounding Project.  


Dr Gemma Eke is a Clinical Psychologist, specialising in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the effects of severe trauma at the Grounding Project.

Both work for South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Gemma Eke, Clin­ical Psyc­holog­ist and Myriam Sarens, In­teg­rative Psyc­hotherap­ist and Hor­ticul­tur­al Therap­ist, work with re­fugees and as­ylum seek­ers who have ex­perien­ced war, traf­fick­ing, tor­ture and un­rest in an NHS partnership pro­ject bet­ween Maudsley NHS Foun­da­tion Trust and the Maudsley Char­ity, based at Roots and Shoots.

“Seeing the corn grow, I see even though we can get demolished in life, we grow again,” explains A, a 52 year old Tamil man from Sri Lanka. He is one of the group members, who has experienced imprisonment and torture prior to arriving in the UK. where, in one gardener’s words, “I can rest my mind.”

We see re­mark­able re­sults, the gard­en is a peace­ful and re­lax­ing place where heal­ing can happ­en, it is also far less stig­matis­ing than an in­stitution­al en­viron­ment, such as a hos­pit­al.

We try to offer the most up-to-date therapy for trauma sym­ptoms, but de­livered in a natur­al sett­ing where group mem­b­ers can join a com­mun­ity and be­nefit from mutu­al sup­port. Our pro­ject has hel­ped many ser­vice users, so we thought we would share its main in­gredients in this book, in order to help other peo­ple suf­fer­ing, and per­haps in­spire more pro­jects like ours.

So we have created Ground­ing, a be­autiful­ly il­lustrated and pract­ical book named after the pro­ject.

Ground­ing has been writt­en for peo­ple af­fected by Post Traumatic Stress Dis­ord­er (PTSD) and clinicians work­ing in the field. The book shows how the Ground­ing pro­ject helps wellbe­ing, con­nec­tion, learn­ing, grow­ing and self-care and de­scribes how hor­ticul­ture can re­duce stress and isola­tion. Peo­ple who have be­nefited tell their sto­ries and share their favourite re­cipes and there are re­sour­ces and sug­ges­tions on how to deal with sym­ptoms of trauma, ex­plained in an ac­cessib­le and rea­di­ly un­derstand­able way.

The Ground­ing pro­ject, which is fund­ed by the Maudsley Char­ity, was de­sig­ned in­itial­ly to help Bos­nian women traumatised by war and was loc­ated at Vaux­hall City Farm for some ten years. Since Janua­ry 2017, we have been based at Lam­beth education­al and en­viron­ment­al char­ity Roots and Shoots, in a be­auti­ful and peace­ful space where special­ly made raised beds give easy ac­cess to those whose in­ju­ries can make be­nd­ing pain­ful.

We are diverse and inclusive, bringing together people from all over the world who have experienced trauma. All have PTSD, which can bring other challenges such as relational difficulties, social isolation, depression and anxiety. For some, mental distress isn’t accepted or acknowledged in their culture but we have found support in a community setting can be less stigmatising.

The pro­ject runs over two days each week. One day focuses on therapy for those ex­perienc­ing ex­treme trauma, while the second is spent gar­den­ing and shar­ing food grown in the gard­en as a group, where friendships are made and there is a real sense of com­mun­ity and sup­port.

“Here re­minds me of my gard­en in Bos­nia,” says B, a 50 year old woman. “It makes me feel I am home. I can rest my mind.” Gar­den­ing is the com­mon lan­guage and re­sults are extra­or­dina­ry as C, a 40 year old man from Et­hiopia, ex­plains with per­fect simplic­ity, “We are dif­ferent cul­tures, dif­ferent nationalit­ies, dif­ferent re­lig­ions and we are one, shar­ing.”

​Most im­por­tant­ly, Ground­ing is about hope. Its sto­ries are of re­cove­ry, with gar­den­ers shar­ing their tips for what has hel­ped them. It is full of ways to make every­one feel bet­t­er, sug­gest­ing kind­ness and a gentle route to fol­low.

Co­p­ies of Ground­ing are avail­able for a sug­gested dona­tion of £7 plus £1.50 p&p and pro­ceeds will be used to sup­port the pro­ject. It is of­fered free to other NHS ser­vices as a re­sour­ce for PTSD clients. To order you can mes­sage us on Facebook or fol­low us on Twitt­er.

Top Tips for Grounding
by Dr Gemma Eke Clinical Psychologist

After dis­tress­ing ex­peri­ences, many peo­ple find they get caught up in mem­o­ries of the past, or wor­ries about the fu­ture.

Ground­ing is a term used in therapy to de­scribe settl­ing, sooth­ing or orien­tat­ing to the here and now.

Your five senses can all be used to help you to ground. If you notice overwhelming or distressing feelings coming up you may wish to try focusing on what you can hear, see, smell, touch and taste, right now.

Top Tips to Enhance Mental Health through Gardening
by Horticultural Therapist & Integrative Psychotherapist, Myriam Sarens

Pay at­ten­tion to the world around you. What is the weath­er like, is it windy, is there a breeze? Can you feel the sun your skin or do you feel cold air pinch­ing you?

Take your time to notice the col­ours around you, the sounds of the birds or branches rustl­ing in the wind. Notice the shapes plants make, the pat­terns of the leaves and shapes of flow­ers.

Plant a seed and water it. Every seed hold potential to flourish and become a plant. Watch it germinate, come alive and grow! To grow a plant is to look forward to tomorrow.

Grow plants you can eat. Enjoy the vital nut­rients the plants pro­vide to for our body to be healthy and strong. Let­tuce and radish grow eas­i­ly and can be pic­ked be­fore you know it, to make a tasty fresh salad.

Grow herbs and enjoy the frag­rance and col­our. Use it in your co­ok­ing or to make tea. For ex­am­ple use fresh mint, it can be re­fresh­ing to mind and body.

And fin­al­ly, con­sid­er that like plants, we are able to ger­minate new thoughts and ideas, which can grow and flourish. We all hold the poten­ti­al for growth and chan­ge from with­in.

​'Without this, I would have killed myself': gardening helps heal refugees' trauma

An NHS-run therapeutic gar­den­ing pro­ject in Lon­don is help­ing to al­leviate sym­ptoms of severe ment­al health pro­blems.


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