The Therapeutic Garden

February 4, 2015


RHart“Sitting in a wilderness garden you can almost hear the generative power of nature. It is like watching a speeded-up film, when buds uncurl, flowers open and shrubs expand as if by magic. If we were to leave a patch of land free from human intervention – no cropping, mowing, digging or ploughing – it would quickly revert to its natural state…It is this feeling of wild, unfettered energy one seeks to create in a therapeutic garden” (Dondald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden)

An edible forest garden is an example of therapeutic gardening that embraces nature as a regenerating source of well being. Not only is the food plentiful, its design is self sustaining, engaging itself in its own reproduction and fertility.

“Symbiosis – ‘living togeher’ or mutual aid – is the basic law of life. Evolution is a holistic process, the development of ever more complex integrated organisms, involving a spiritual element which ensures that the whole is more than the sum of its parts” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Forest gardening is a practical means of cultivation, as it involves low maintenance in regards to watering and weeding. The forest garden appears chaotic and dishevelled, and yet its layered design is a complex arrangement of companion planting. It is a self-regulating habitat, an ecological system, which benefits both mind and body. “If a garden is to mirror nature it must be varied, irregular, random and wild” (Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARobert Hart, a pioneer of forest gardening, promoted the virtues of working with nature to produce both food and medicine. Hart worked less than an acre of land in his backyard in Shropshire, England. He planted his garden with a canopy layer of tall fruit trees, underplanted with fruit bushes, perennial herbs and vegetables. Climbing plants were also incorporated, which used the higher layers of vegetation for support. The garden also utilised living mulches (lower level plants) to compete with weeds, which also deterred pests and regulated the growing environment.

“The forest is the scene of incessant dynamic happenings, positive and negative, harmonious and competitive: fighting and courtship, mating and feeding, socialising and display. By miracles of natural alchemy, Gaia and her agents have evolved innumerable forms, rhythms, colours, structures, devices, movements, scents, sounds, and adaptations some of extraordinary ingenuity, many of great beauty” (Robert Hart, Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age).

Hart was a carer for his brother, born with severe learning disabilities. Forest gardening supported his dedication to providing his brother with a vital therapeutic surrounding, composed entirely from the forces of nature. Hart’s garden was also his art, laboratory and sanctuary. His dedication to experimenting with edible biodiversity has since inspired a generation of ecologically minded gardeners. His spirt lives on within the legacy of the forest garden tradition which supports the rejuvenation and well being of people and earth.


1. Robert Hart Author of a Forest Garden

2. Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden


Creating a Forest Garden Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops by Martin Crawford

Forest Gardeing: Rediscovering Nature and Community in a Post-Industrial Age by Robert Hart

The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk

“Edible Woodland” by Matthew Wilson (Financial Times Weekend, January 31-February 1, 2015)


The People’s Apothecary Garden located behind the Vancouver Island College of Art (in Victoria, British Columbia), is a curatorial project produced by the Green Tongues Collective. “The People’s Apothecary is a herb garden, a commons, a sculpture, a political statement, a model for creating self-reliant communities, an intervention into exploitative state systems, a relationship with ourselves, the earth and each other” ( Serina Zapf, “The People’s Apothecary: Situating the Garden).

The herb garden acts as a living art installation, and an engaging and changing environment for learning, health, discussion, and social action.


Inspired by Oliver Kelhammer’s biological interventions, which act as both public art forms and acts of environmental activism, The People’s Apothecary is a sculpting of social space. Using organic gardening methods, the herb garden is a collective endeavour. Each participant contributes time, seeds, plants, mulching materials, and care. It is cultivated collectively and can be harvested by the community at any time. The garden is an example of community engaged artistic practice, that is regenerative and beyond the parameters of the gallery as an often clinical space.

The core principles of the Green Tongues Collective are:

1. To decentralise medicine, by making medicinal plants accessible to everyone.

2. To create spaces for the interconnection of wildlife, herbs, and humans.

3. To create empowering spaces where people can come together.

4. To make collective art (through gardening) as a way of encouraging critical thinking, collective action, participatory spaces, and as a means of escaping traditional divisions between artist/viewer.

5. To create spaces for conversation.

6. To empower participants to gain a deeper understanding and connection to their land and their health.

7. To create spaces that bring communities together in ways which weave together people, skills and land.



“The People’s Apothecary is life as art and art as life”

Edible Wild Plants and Herbs

September 12, 2010

A Selection of Edible Wild Plants and Herbs for Domestic, School or Community Forest Gardens

The following wild plants and herbs grow well with Irish hedgerow trees, vegetables and soft fruits. They can be grown to compose the lower layer of a forest garden.

References: Edible Wild Plants and Herbs: A Compendium of Recipes and Remedies by Pamela Michael

20 000 Secretes of Tea by Victoria Zak

Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends and Folklore by Niall MacCoitir


Woodruff is a flavouring for punch and herb cordials, in addition to being used for tea. It was a wild plant traditionally used to “freshen” the inside of homes.


The white flowers of the elder tree are soaked with spring water, sugar and a small amount of vinegar to produce a traditional cordial, which can be combined with other herbal teas and fresh herbs (i.e. mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena). Elderflower Cordial strengthens the immune system.


Commonly found along road verges and waysides, this plant can be be infused in water and then used to clean wounds, as it contains silica to repair damaged tissues. Its young spring leaves can be used to make soup (with onion, nutmeg and cream),  or used as a vegetable  (combined with olive oil, garlic, black pepper and sour cream (Pamela Michael). It was also traditionally used as a love charm in Ireland.


Blue borage flowers are edible, its leaves (when very young) taste like cucumber, and they can also be infused in hot water to make a tea. Borage tea can be useful in times of stress, traditionally known as a herb for courage and strength. “This tea can help you recover from a period of prolonged fatigue, and fortify your energy reserves during a time of excessive stress or fearfulness” (Victoria Zak’s).


This herb and Irish wildflower can be infused to make a healthy tea, it can also be useful in an eyewash for sore irritated eyes. It is commonly know as “Nature’s Aspirin” it is a “recuperation tea to restore health and vitality after an illness” (Victoria Zak). Meadowsweet has been used to sweeten mead, wine and cordial. Meadowsweet was “used to freshen homes with its aromatic flowers and leaves, and was traditionally strewn on floors, stuffed into beds and placed among the linen” in Ireland (Niall MacCoitir)


The hawthorn tree has edible berries (cooked and used for jam or chutney), and its leaves, flowers and berries can also be used to make tea. “You can treat yourself to the joy of improved circulation with the rich brew of this tea which is good for your heart, kidneys and nerves, and it’s a rich source of nutrients” (Victoria Zak). Hawthorn has also been associated with improved memory. It contains Vitamins A, C, B-Complex and Iron.