Sowing the seeds of personal growth

It was perhaps inevitable that Paul Herrington would one day set up the business that he has. For many years he had parallel careers, working as both a psychiatric nurse, and as a professional garden designer (once winning a medal at the Chelsea Flower Show). When he hung up his nursing jacket for good, it seemed only natural to combine his two skill sets and establish a project that promotes the therapeutic benefits of gardening.

So in 2014 he started Grow Places, a social enterprise based in Cambridge that designs, develops and nurtures gardens in care homes, hospitals and other community projects – with a focus on improving the mental and physical health of the participants.

“There are two layers to it,” says Paul. “You can provide some beautiful gardens for people to enjoy and benefit from, but the benefits are more than doubled if those people are also creating and maintaining the garden.

“For many, it’s about feeling less isolated,” he adds. “The gardening process helps people to engage with others.”

There is a large and ever-increasing body of scientific evidence that attests to the therapeutic benefits of gardening and being outdoors, and Paul often witnesses the effects first-hand.

“For people with dementia, gardens can really help to unlock things. They might be able to say something lucid about a plant, like when it should be pruned, or what memories it evokes. Those kind of mental connections are really powerful.”

Generally working as a “one-man band,” Paul Herrington draws upon a varied network of support if he needs to, links established through both his health service and gardening work. With funding from a range of sources – from hospital budgets to the European Social Fund – he likes to stay local, and only takes on projects that have the potential to enable further involvement for the participants.

“If it goes well, I can step back and they can be up and running with it,” he says. “That’s the most enjoyable part for me. Seeing how the participants prosper, making connections with each other and acquiring new skills. The gardens are just a vehicle for that personal development.”

If you want to know more about Grow Places, get in contact via their website or phone 07988 740456.

By Theo Hooper

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