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"A therapeutic garden is a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. Interactions can be passive or active depending on the garden design and users’ needs.” -Definition: American Horticultural Therapy Association SNOW BLANKETED the ground last March as Lori Groves picked up a sketch pad and measuring tape to begin planning Green Wood’s therapeutic garden. The drawing taking shape before her eyes was intricate and detailed. It called on the four “rooms” of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual healing at the basis of the RedPath Addiction Recovery Program Facilitator training she had just completed; its four directional pattern drew from the elemental wheel of air, fire, water and earth, and its circular shape evoked the Indigenous cycle of life -- birth, life, death and rebirth. All of these teachings, Lori recalls, “just came together.” By the time the earth thawed, Lori had shared and refined her plans. Green Wood’s first therapeutic community garden was ready to spring to life. At its core is inclusivity. The intentional design encourages the widest variety of people to feel welcome and use it -- pick and eat the produce, smell the flowers, co-exist with the plants, animals and insects and benefit from everything it has to offer -- not the least of which is its force as a place of serenity, beauty and healing. “The design -- the balance and harmony of it -- strengthens the connection between people and the space and the place,” she says. “We might not consciously recognize the connection, but everyone can come into this space and feel safety and belonging.”

“I like the energy here. No matter how I’m feeling when I arrive, I always feel better here in the garden.” -Visitor to the garden

A FEW WEEKS AGO a man rode his bike to the Community Hive to charge his phone and pick up supplies. After helping him, Lori showed him around the garden.

“At first, it was an exploration. We went to all the different garden boxes and looked at what was growing. He sampled what was ready for harvest and asked a lot of questions about the plants. In the herbal tea garden he’d take a leaf, crush it, rub it, smell it and guess what it was. He played the guitar, sang and helped me and a volunteer garden helper rake and trim. It was a really fun experience. He said it was the best day he’s had in a very long time.”

As he left, Lori showed him the bags for harvesting, invited him to help himself to produce and help out any time. He stayed six hours that day and has returned every day since.

THE GARDEN’S PRIMARY FOCUS is to promote social and community engagement. Food is secondary. But as summer peaks, the harvest’s appeal is undeniable. Plump shell peas, long, slender green and yellow beans, shiny cucumbers and clusters of purple and giant red tomatoes hang heavy on the vines. Everywhere signs encourage people to “Pick Me!” And like everything else about its design, the signage is intentional.

“Signage invites people to engage with the garden, to let them know, ‘I can pick this, it’s safe to pick this, I’m supposed to pick this!’ We want everyone to take and enjoy the vegetables and flowers. We want people to know it’s openly shared.”

WHO USES THE GARDEN? A better question would be who doesn’t. Dedicated helpers have taken on every conceivable task from transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse to building raised beds and watering. A youth art group transplanted basil seedlings and created garden markers. The drop-in art group uses the garden for inspiration and is creating a mural on the garden shed. Guided meditation sessions and the QnA (Queers n Allies Northumberland) youth group have made it their meeting place. Kids play in it, searching for insects and bunnies, others drop by to pick flowers, and photographers are drawn to it. One regular visitor lives in a room with little access to nature, so instead of watching TV, comes to relax or help.

“Whatever a person needs from the garden I think they can find it, whether that’s play, sitting to contemplate and reflect, growing something, harvesting something or doing a purposeful task. Healing is such an individualized process, and the garden supports all of those interactions.”

SOCIAL CONNECTION, HEALING, BELONGING, INCLUSIVITY, SAFETY, HOPE. Lori has used all of these to describe the garden’s underlying principles. Then we happen on one final word - nurturing.

“The act of nurturing is such an important part of therapeutic horticulture because it asks: What conditions does this plant need to thrive? Then we think, ‘What do I need to thrive, what kind of environment, what kind of basic needs, what do I need around me?’

“By planting a seed, caring for that seed and growing a plant we learn how to nurture and, in that, we build self confidence, a sense of ‘I can do this!’ Maybe from there we can start to nurture ourselves and nurture others.”

'Show compassion, recognize this was a person who deserved to live...' -Missy McLean

On Wednesday, August 31, memorial services and vigils will take place across the country in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, remembering without stigma those who have died while acknowledging the grief of families and friends left behind. Tragically, the event takes place amidst ever-spiralling overdose deaths. Here in Northumberland County, commemorative activities will take place in front of Victoria Hall in Cobourg throughout the day. Missy McLean, a Green Wood Coalition board member, director of Moms Stop the Harm and activist who works for policy change to address this crisis, supports those who have lost loved ones and friends. First, she wants people to understand these “deaths by policy” could be prevented by a nationally regulated, safe drug supply. She urges people to write to their elected officials to demand they “respond to this national emergency.” Second, she hopes that through events like these, increased education will open hearts and minds. “Show compassion, recognize their humanity, recognize this was a person who deserved to live and that this death was preventable.” Daytime activities will include an art installation, sidewalk talks and free Naloxone training. A candlelight vigil will follow at 8:00 p.m. Northumberland Hills Hospital will host a display in its lobby throughout the month.

What can the community accomplish that institutions can't? Join us for reflections on the recent 'Shelter in Peace' homelessness initiative and small group conversations about community-led, collective action. All are welcome at no cost. Photo:

Wednesday, August 17, 7:00 PM Trinity United Church 284 Division St., Cobourg, ON

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