Therapeutic Horticulture


Martineau Gardens forms a therapeutic environment of over two acres of organically maintained land, two miles from the city centre. The Gardens include a substantial wildlife area, formal gardens, a vegetable plot, an orchard and herb beds. Martineau Gardens has been looking after the site with a wide range of volunteers since 1997. The volunteers look after the Gardens for the benefit and pleasure of the people of Birmingham.

We have established a friendly, respectful culture where the volunteers support and encourage one another. Gardening together provides an opportunity for talking and listening to other people. Working with the natural cycles of sowing, nurturing, harvesting and surviving the winter can help vulnerable people to learn from experience that they can help things to grow, and eat the result in some cases. They also learn from the fact that sometimes things don’t work out, but next year you can try again.

What is Therapeutic Horticulture?

Find out more about the positive impact Therapeutic Horticulture has for our volunteers, in their own words – you can also watch our film and read our reports – click here

The volunteers:

Martineau Gardens provides a unique therapeutic horticulture service to people from all over the city. Because of our location, in 2006, 59% of our volunteers were from south Birmingham.

Our service is socially inclusive in that we welcome a wide range of volunteers who work together, looking after the Gardens. Our regular volunteers have included people with the following disabilities or support needs:

  1. Mental health issues
  2. Recovering from addictions
  3. Older people
  4. Learning disabilities
  5. Autistic spectrum / Asperger’s
  6. Physical disabilities

Staff work with the mix of people so that everyone is contributing to the best of their ability, and learning about plants, the environment and each other. Some of our volunteers are people who ‘just want to do something else on my day off’ or are currently unemployed or getting work experience with us.

The effect on independence and inclusion

Volunteers have the opportunity to mix with other people, to join in purposeful activities, and improve their physical fitness and emotional resilience. Our volunteers usually move on into work, training or other volunteering activities.

At the Gardens, volunteers are offered:

  1. Opportunities for voluntary work (gardening, conservation etc.)
  2. Opportunities for physical exercise
  3. Routes and opportunities for arts and crafts activities
  4. Routes to education, training and paid work

Using ‘Social accounting’, we are exploring ways of measuring the impact that volunteering has on their lives. We believe that it has a beneficial impact on their social inclusion.

Our volunteers are able to develop skills, in both practical horticulture and their interpersonal relationships while volunteering at the Gardens. Volunteering in a Garden is seen as the kind of socially acceptable activity that anyone can do. As the range of people is wide, most people with mental health issues tend to ‘normalise’ their behaviour. Most volunteers attend independently, some are accompanied on their first few visits, and some are brought and collected by family or support workers. Volunteers have a choice in how much they work alongside other people, or by themselves.

The volunteers can attend monthly meetings to discuss their concerns and their ideas for the Gardens.

The staff

The Therapeutic Horticulture work is led by Stewart Holmes, who has a Diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture from Coventry University. He organises the work of the Gardens as well as leading the volunteers in activities.

Miranda Kingston works with women volunteers one day a week, to help re-balance the lower proportion of women volunteers that we currently have.


Our volunteers find us for themselves, or are referred by: Adullam Homes, Aquarius, Autism West Midlands, BSMHT, Biscom, BTCV, Connexions, Dementia Service, Disability Resource Centre, Focus Futures, HOB Homeless Team, Mencap, Mind, Moseley CDT, Moseley & District Housing, QAC, Rathbone Garden Centre, Rethink, SIFA, Trident Housing, Turning Point and the Volunteer Centre (BVSC).

We ask the referrer to make a judgement as to whether the volunteer is a danger to themselves, other people or the Gardens. In such cases we ask the referrer to provide staff to accompany the volunteer.