Max’s incredible gardening journey

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This is part 2 of our series on highlighting the work of Thrive, in marking World Mental Health Day. To better understand how Thrive supports gardening for mental health, and the benefits of social and therapeutic horticulture, read part 1 of the series here: CoirProducts is proud to support their amazing work at their London Battersea branch. The following story has been produced by Thrive. 

Coming to Thrive proved a pivotal moment in Max’s life. The stimulation of varied gardening tasks, exercise and social interaction proved to be a transformative combination

“I was quite lazy, sad and generally upset and angry most of the time. I was bored and stuck indoors because of lockdown but now I’ve got outdoors and around nature, I’ve touched grass, I’ve had a good time and I feel a lot better.”

This is how Max felt before starting to attend sessions at Thrive in 2022.  Today, you’re likely to see Max dressed in waders and splashing round the pond in the Old English Garden in Battersea Park. One of his favourite jobs is maintaining the fountain and he’s creating an ecosystem to keep the pond clean naturally. Max also enjoys his days in the Herb Garden where he’s learned to grow fruit and vegetables from seed.  

Under the watchful eye of Social Therapeutic Horticulture Practitioner, Helene Guild, she explained, “Max has Autism and when he arrived at Thrive he wasn’t keen to talk or socialise with others. He didn’t enjoy gardening and initially would say he couldn’t do things. My challenge was to include him in gardening projects and planting activities with other clients.”

Helene says she’s seen a dramatic improvement in Max’s mental and physical health; “Max has grown hugely in confidence and is happy to share stories of his life away from Thrive. He’s able to plan his day and talks enthusiastically about the projects he’s working on. Recently he represented Thrive during two TV interviews, something he’d never have contemplated a year ago.”  

Max has changed physically too and is very active, working in the pond in all weathers. He’s mixing more with the group and aware and interested in what others are doing. As Helene explains, “He knows his way round the garden so he can go on his own without being anxious about it. It’s the autonomy, this is the only place he can go anywhere on his own without supervision.” 

“His amazing journey started with no gardening knowledge and here we are in spring 2023 with his pond project up and running, pumpkin seeds growing in the greenhouse and plans for clearing up a small island he has created near the water fountain; it’s incredible.” 

For anyone thinking about the enjoyment and benefits of getting outdoors and into nature, Max has these words of encouragement “Go outside, get some sunlight, don’t be afraid to touch some plants, find some dirt, dig a round a bit, get your hands dirty, just expose yourself to nature that’s what you need. A really good day with plenty to do makes me happy. There’s nothing like Thrive in London, I’m stronger and happier because of it.”

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