World Mental Health Week Q&A with Therapeutic Horticulturalist Cath Manuel!

For this World Mental Health Week, we decided to explore the therapeutic benefits of gardening with Therapeutic Horticulturalist, Vegepodder and founder of Soil to Supper, Cath Manuel. Cath works extensively with clients of all abilities to provide them with gardening programs that assist in improving their mental and physical health, showing that gardening is really the best medicine! 

Tell us a little bit about you and what you do at Soil to Supper?

After studying a Diploma of Horticulture in the late 1990’s and working in the horticulture field, I started Soil to Supper 12 years ago to share my knowledge and passion for growing healthy food.

In 2014, I trained in Therapeutic Horticulture after realising that gardening was helping my wellbeing. I wanted to help others gather the health benefits from gardening, so now I specialise in Therapeutic Horticulture, delivering programs to organisations nationally and training others to work in the Therapeutic Horticulture field.

How do you think gardening contributes to positive mental health and wellbeing?

Gardening is a holistic approach to wellbeing. It contributes to good mental and emotional health through the physical effort from gardening, the social interaction and a deep connection with nature. All this encompasses feelings of confidence, joy and self-esteem.

Have you seen this in practice through your programs and workshops?

Through our programs, both individually and in a group setting I witness positive outcomes for most people and have received many lovely words of feedback from participants. One participant shared these kind words:

“There is no doubt in my mind that Cath’s Gardening Program has been one of the most significant positive influences on my recovery from Major Depression and General Anxiety Disorder…

The program naturally varies from week to week, depending on the seasons, vagaries of the weather and tasks needing attention.

Being such a “hands-on” activity, gardening can be exhausting and satisfying both physically and mentally… and therein lies the reason why Cath’s Gardening Program has been, and still is, an absolute winner and a Godsend for me…”

 In our program we provide weekly group programs to people who experience mental health conditions living in supported accommodation. Having access to the garden and structured garden-based activities has had a great impact on their wellbeing and supports their recovery.

We love growing veggies (can you tell? Haha) but what else do you like to plant with clients that is particularly fulfilling or exciting for them?

Depending on the program and the participant’s needs, we would choose plants that have sensory and medicinal benefits, plants that are grown indoors, bushfoods and many plants that are used for activities, for example growing annual flowers and veggies to collect and save seeds. Everything we grow is exciting and fun for everyone!

What would your top tips be for those wanting to set up their Vegepod to improve their everyday mental & physical wellbeing?

For me, growing seasonal crops in my Vegepod provides something to look forward to with the fresh food I harvest each day and one of my gardening participants said that she has something to look forward to every morning as she checks her Vegepod at the start of each day.

 I’d suggest to all gardeners to take some time out of the day to check on your plants growing, harvest something fresh to eat and complete a few little jobs to maintain a healthy garden and a healthy ‘us’!

 It only takes 30 minutes in the garden to experience the benefits that help to maintain good physical and mental health, without feeling overwhelmed. So, head outside every day, or every other day if that suits you better, and enjoy 'being' in the garden while setting aside thoughts of the future or the past for the time being.

If there was one tip I would share with all gardeners is to harvest food once a day to maintain good health.

Check out some of Cath's Vegepod's being used in workshops with her clients (including a bumper carrot harvest!):

You can find out more about Cath's work here at Soil to Supper or check out her Instagram here for lots of happy gardeners!

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