This is each patient’s personal, private place. Within clear boundaries separating each 2 x 3 meter plot from its neighbors, members create their own garden. They may shape it as they desire, introduce various elements of their choosing, plant and sow according to personal preference: flowers, herbal, fragrance and tea plants, vegetables or fruit. It is also their responsibility to care for their gardens: to water, prune, harvest, weed, shape, air and alter. The garden’s boundaries do not apply solely to planting – one may also dig a whole, construct a rockery, pave a path and more. A horticultural therapist often accompanies the process of working in the garden, to assist both theoretically and technically in carrying out the activities.
The individual garden bears great significance in the therapeutic process:
Boundaries: the group’s members learn to respect the given boundaries of their garden and those of their friends, and are required to operate within them.
Privacy: all group members live most of their lives in institutions and care centers, with three tenants occupying each room. Privacy in these institutions is difficult to attain, and in most cases, requires – a lock and a key. The individual garden provides a place with respect for private activities: group members are given a private space, in which only they are entitled to operate, unless they have invited other friends to help.
Motivation: increasing the patient’s personal motivation. Work in the individual garden brings about joy and satisfaction. The results of activity in the defined individual garden are obvious, and promote patients’ appreciation of their own value, while providing additional motivation for the continuation of the process.
Belonging: the individual garden contributes to a strengthening of patients’ sense of belonging, consistency and stability. The garden “belongs” to the patient, and the patient “belongs” to the group and to the team of workers.
Sharing: one of the individual garden’s products is group members’ ability to share the things they have grown with others. This cannot be taken for granted with people whose belongings in life do not amount to much, and who tend to protect their property from others. It is apparent that they enjoy the “harvest” of their hard work in the individual garden and that they draw satisfaction from their ability to share it with others – whether members of their group or friends at the institution.
Creativity: whereas work in the public gardens is primarily characterized by maintenance and adherence to certain performance standards, in the individual garden – the sky is the limit, and patients may create in it anything on their mind. This possibility forms the basis for development of creativity, which is not an obvious strength of the group’s members. Small and gradual changes manifest themselves differently with each one: suggestions of ideas for execution, different initiatives, ways of technically solving a problem, diversity and innovation in choosing materials and more.
Exploration of another world: while tracking unfolding events in the individual garden, where everything is dynamic and frequently changing, an opportunity for observation, discovery and exploration of processes is given. Withering plants, something fallen, something grown, flowers replaced by fruit, ripening and dispersing seeds, casual appearances by wildlife at the garden – there are many changes, much motion, and one is given the opportunity to be surprised at all times, and to learn how to react to change.
Care and cultivation: the individual garden enables an encouragement of the cultivating, therapeutic and caring aspects of the patient. Most of them apparently hold in high regard what they perceive as beautiful, clean and well kept. They enjoy presenting their garden after they have weeded, pruned, planted and watered it, and are apparently proud of their handiwork. They obviously learn to enjoy and appreciate all sorts of beauty and to distinguish between “ordinary” and “unique” things.
Legitimacy: a place where (nearly) everything is allowed; the enabling space, the playground, the place where one is free to act out one’s wishes and will; even if some are not interested in cultivating or growing anything; even if one only wishes to dig a hole or pile rocks or do anything else he or she sees fit to do in the garden.
The Group Garden
Encompasses the area of the therapeutic garden that does not “belong” to any of the group’s members, and in which all group members participate in therapy.
As opposed to work in the individual garden, here patients experience group work. They cope with the need to work together and cooperate, to render mutual assistance, be considerate, make concessions and compromises, learn about others, achieve perspective, share in everyone’s property (vegetables, fruit and flowers) and learn how to work within a group.
This area contains a number of corners, each of which has a specifically defined role:
Work corners: with a work table, tools (not just gardening tools, but also: a hammer, saw, screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, etc.), different materials: natural elements collected in the field (wood logs, branches, tree bark, bamboo shoots, acorns, stones, etc.) and working materials (iron tile, nets, nails, jute cloth, etc.). Additionally, space on the table is allocated to planting mixtures, flowerpots, trays and others.
Group sitting corner: this corner is where everyone assembles at the end of the day, and on events celebrating birthdays, holidays, farewell parties, etc.
The pond: the element of water is distinctive at the garden, with frogs, aquatic plants and fully-grown riverbank vegetation constructed by the members of the group.
Plant storage surfaces: the plants planted in the therapeutic garden are the product of sowing, reproduction and growing performed by the group’s members. Prior to being planted, they are placed on surfaces, watered during summer and cared for throughout the year. From here, the members of the group often choose to take plants to adorn the institution, or to give them away as presents to friends and relatives.
Group gardening grounds: additional regions intended for a group vegetation garden, flowers, placement of different elements developed during the weekly therapy session with the therapist. Both plants that change from season to season and fixed elements may be found here.