It’s a sunny winter’s day and a group of gardeners are digging in the earth, planting vegies and herbs while enjoying laughter and good conversations.
Sounds like a perfect morning for most people.
For Cath Manuel, this is her job.
For more than 25 years, the Sunshine Coast local has lived and breathed the horticulture industry. She trained in the therapeutic horticulture field in 2014 and has delivered garden-based programs since then as the owner and founder of Soil to Supper.
Relatively unknown in Australia, therapeutic horticulture is a process of using plants and garden-based activities to promote physical health and emotional wellbeing for people of all ages and abilities.
“When I get asked what I do for work and explain therapeutic horticulture, most people say, ‘Is that a real job?’,” she says.
“It’s not very well known, but definitely growing in awareness.
“I love sharing my skills and knowledge of gardening to bring joy and good health to so many people who need support and guidance in the garden.
“Gardening helps to improve physical and mental health for all of us and is especially beneficial for people with mental health conditions, health ailments, disabilities, the elderly and people recovering from an injury or illness.”
As host of The Wellbeing Garden podcast, Ms Manual says the garden has always been a retreat and relaxing space for her. So, she realised if it was helping her emotional and physical health, then it would potentially help others. Her gardening-based activities encourage participants to grow healthy food to enjoy year-round and have been popular with aged care and the elderly, people living with dementia, community centres and National Disability Insurance Scheme participants.
“We have garden-based activities that are suited to the person’s needs and ability, so it’s very person-centred,” Ms Manuel says.
“We’re enabling people to complete activities that help to bring wellness and we grow fresh food, so they have something healthy to eat.
“It’s also very social, so we enjoy time growing together which helps to build connections and reduce social isolation.”
Ms Manuel also runs a therapeutic horticulture training program to inspire and guide more people to become part of the industry.
“I saw a need to have more people trained on the ground, delivering programs within communities, so I developed my own training program to share my knowledge and inspire others to work in this wonderful field,” she says.
“My aim is to make gardening and growing food accessible for everyone.”
Visit soiltosupper.com. Find The Wellbeing Garden podcast on Spotify.