Taking root with veterans | Love The Garden

Taking root with veterans

Geoff Hodge's picture
By Geoff Hodge

Gardening Leave is a charity that focuses on the mental health of ex-Servicemen and women. It tends to the invisible wounds of conflict by using horticultural therapy to support troubled veterans on their journey to good health and their transition to civilian life.

Staff and veterans at the Gardening Leave project in Ayr
Staff and veterans at the Gardening Leave project in Ayr
We have supported this worthwhile charity since its launch with compost, fertilisers and a range of other products. Through Gardening Leave, this year we have also donated compost to the Union Jack Club, a Service charity that offers accommodation to members of the Armed Forces in central London. We'll tell you more about this later.

Our donations help ensure the veterans who attend Gardening Leave projects receive horticultural therapy. The sessions the charity offer help troubled veterans regain their confidence and concentration, maximise their social, cognitive, physical and psychological functioning, and enhance their general health and wellbeing. Symptoms they might be suffering include flashbacks, nightmares, increased levels of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, insomnia, inability to concentrate, mood swings, depression, possible psychosis, and substance misuse/self-medication.

Compost help

The compost allows veterans to do things like pricking out and, later in the year, potting on which are among their favourite jobs. This kind of activity is good for learning how to work on their own, as well as in a group. Gardening Leave tell us that sometimes, you can hear a veteran sing quietly as they work – it can be such a relief not to be thinking about their troubles. Wherever possible, do these jobs outdoors in the daylight and sunshine. This never fails to lift the spirits and there is often a quiet buzz of relaxed conversation – sometimes it is the first time a veteran has spoken to anyone else in a while, and it’s a good time for their horticultural therapists to start to talk around the metaphors of planting, growing and changing.

Raising hopes & spirits

They say that if you’ve been in the Army, then you’re bound to have knee and back problems. Gardening Leave tries to do as much work as they can in raised beds – 1m (3ft) beds that people with back and knee problems can work with easily. The act of building the raised beds helps veterans learn to work together outside the Armed Forces' way of working, and each of the beds are filled with what Gardening Leave calls the 'black gold' that is Miracle-Gro compost. One veteran put it very simply: “I love it when I get a job I can really concentrate on – I forget everything and just think about what I am doing.”

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