The Social Garden

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in Practice

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Beekeeping Project is Go!

Last year we, at Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project took on the very over grown allotment plot next to our site with the plan to set up a beekeeping project.

We applied for funding based on the potential therapeutic value of beekeeping skills for our group members and the benefits to the local environment that honey bees will provide. Luckily we were very successful.

So, we got our first hive through the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association (CBKA) as I had previously done my basic training with them. It was flat pack!

We set about clearing the front of the plot ready for the willow screen to be planted and we were lucky enough to get a beekeeping bench built for us by a recent volunteer team which we placed in front of the living willow.

Sarah, a very experienced local beekeeper offered us a small, healthy colony and last week she brought the bees in a temporary hive to the site. They seemed to have settled well to their new surroundings so yesterday Sarah joined us at the project to help me transfer the bees into our own hive.

The project group members are very interested in the new arrivals and three members are going to enrol on the CBKA beekeeping for beginners course next Spring.

The bees have already settled in to their new hive and we’re hoping they’ll continue to be happy at our project site so the group can enjoy watching and supporting a healthy population of honey bees.


The bee hive on site behind the growing beds

Special thanks to Sarah (for the bees, advice and support) and Rachel (who helped me build the hive.)

Watch this space for updates and pollination stories 🙂



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Garden Arts and Crafts at Riverside

I believe that creativity is an intrinsic part of a human being and to be able to create arts/ crafts can be extremely important for a person’s wellbeing. Arts and crafts, usually relating to the garden, are often used at Social and Therapeutic Horticulture projects. They feature strongly in the projects that I manage in Cambridge with homeless and vulnerably housed people.

Today, I started a new side project – The Riverside Garden Arts and Crafts Project – which will run on Tuesday afternoons at the Victoria Project hostels. The group and I have already had loads of ideas about the sessions that we want to do, including – building a flower press and pressing wild flowers from our garden, making paper out of scraps from the garden, building solitary bee houses, making chutney from our gluts, making wire and stone hangings for the trees, making mosaics from found objects in the garden…….. I will be posting about some of them as we go ahead.

For our first session today we made some bramble cordial in one of the communal kitchens.

We picked a load of blackberries from the wildlife area and rinsed them in the sink.


We put them all in a saucepan and just covered them with water, then put them on a medium heat (but didn’t let them boil) for about ten minutes. Then, using a steamer and some clean muslin we separated the juice into another big pan. Paula couldn’t see any go to waste so she squeezed every single drop out of the muslin (see worrying third picture!)

We then put the liquid back on a medium heat and added the sugar (about 200g per litre but you can use more or less depending on how sweet you like it.) That was then heated (not boiled) for a few more minutes to melt the sugar and we decanted it into clean glass jars and bottles using an ingenious funnel made by Greg.

At this point you can add acetic acid to help preserve it but we didn’t bother because all the bottles have been snapped up by project group members, other residents/ staff at the hostel and will be used up quickly.

The cordial is really tasty and it was great to use our own produce to create something so delicious. Can’t wait for our next project sessions. Watch this space.

Ruth 🙂


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Group Volunteering at the Allotment Project

This week we’ve had a group of engineers from Infinis, a renewable energy company volunteering with us.

I had three specific jobs in mind for the group, but not much resources available. This didn’t stop the amazing Infinis team as they proved to be extremely proactive and inventive.

Task One – Clear and Edge the Perennial Beds

Keeping the grass and other weeds from creeping into the herb, perennial and wildflower beds is a constant nightmare. So we asked the Infinis team to edge them with some gravel boards that we provided. They were very resourceful in finding timber around the site and from pallets to peg the boards in. The results look amazing and will save a lot of extra weeding in future.


Task Two – Build a Beekeepers Bench

When our beekeeping area is full of bees we will need a bench to work from and sit to watch the bees. So we gave nothing but a few pallets to one of the Infinis team and he made this brilliant bench for us!

Task Three – Build a Wildlife Hide

Our orchard and wildlife area has visiting birds, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads, foxes, hedgehogs and deer so we thought it would be nice to have a hide to sit and watch them all. The Infinis team kindly offered to buy us a basic flat pack shed which some of the group went to collect whilst two of the team laid a foundation out of some old stones they found round the back of our tool shed. Then they put up the shed and added some big windows for us to watch the wildlife through.

The team seemed to really enjoy working together away from their normal day jobs.

“It’s been a really interesting day finding out about the charity and meeting some of the people they help.” said Neil Armstrong, who recently joined the company. “I volunteer in my own time to help a local homeless shelter and find it really rewarding that we also do this as a company.”

Mark Wiedeholz, team manager, was pleased with the day.  “These volunteering days are fantastic for teamwork and for us all to get together. It’s great to see things finished in a day and to hear and see at first hand the difference it will make to the charity.”

Our allotment project gang enjoyed working with the Infinis team and are pretty happy with the results too.


Thanks again to those at Infinis and Business Volunteering who organised and attended the volunteering day.

Ruth 🙂

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Bee Keeping at Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment

At the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project we have always tried to encourage wildlife habitats, especially for pollinating insects like solitary bees.

So, last year I completed the full training with Cambridge Bee Keeping Association with the plan to set up a bee keeping project on the allotment site.

We were lucky that the extremely overgrown plot next to our existing wildlife area became free at the beginning of the year. So we took it on, began clearing it and planted a willow screen ready to develop it into a bee friendly area.

The group members have varying interest in the thought of caring for some honey bees at the project. Some are really keen to get involved and look forward to the benefits to their physical, emotional and mental health that can come from the rewarding pastime.

However, by caring for a hive of bees there can also be benefits for the wider community and even humanity as a whole.

The majority of flowering plants need animals to pollinate them. But it’s not just pretty flowers that we need to thank the honeybees for. Approximately, one third of the average diet (far more if you have a plant based diet) has been pollinated by them. Nuts, carrots, soya beans, broccoli, apples, strawberries, avocados, even Alfalfa the clover-like plant grown widely for cattle feed are dependent on the honeybee, as is the cotton for the tee-shirt you’re wearing.

But honeybees across the world are dying at an alarming rate. In America, one in three hives was left lifeless at the beginning of 2008 and this death rate has been rising rapidly over the last decade. If or when the world loses the honeybee for good, agriculture will collapse and our civilization as we know it will be in real danger.

What is to blame for this catastrophe? Viruses, parasites, pesticides and climate change have all played a part in the decline of the honeybee as they have weakened populations. But the main culprits are the industrial beekeepers themselves who have worked their bees to death by shipping their hives thousands of miles every year to different monoculture sites, all in the name of agribusiness profits.

So, what can YOU do about this problem?

There are so many ways that you can help the honeybee at home, in the garden, on an allotment or at a horticulture therapy project. If you plant ornamental plants, choose single, open flowers for easy pollination (bees can’t get inside double flowers.) Grow a combination of different edible crops and consider a wildflower bed, a pond and a native hedge. DON’T use pesticides and other chemicals – these have been proven to affect the populations of many pollinating animals including honeybees. If you shop at supermarkets, try to choose organic produce or buy your fruit and vegetables (that you don’t grow yourself) at a local farmer’s market. By not buying into the huge monoculture agribusinesses you will be protecting our honeybees across the world.

And of course, you could consider keeping a hive and caring for some healthy bees yourself. P1010153

So, today we went to pick up our first hive from Stephen at the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association. It’s flat pack!

We will be very excited to get it built and populated so we can enjoy watching honey bees join our other pollinating insects at the project. Watch this space for updates!

Ruth 🙂

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The Benefits of Nature Therapy

One important aspect of Social/ Therapeutic Horticulture is the passive enjoyment of nature. In our society, technology can mean that we are not in touch with the rhythms of the natural world. Just working in an office with artificial lighting, screens and heating every day means that some people don’t even notice the cycles of the day and night/ summer and winter. This disconnection with our natural environment can lead to so many problems for the individual including stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

The physical and mental benefits from immersing oneself in the natural world are starting to be recognised widely. At the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project we are very aware of the benefits from just being on the allotment site away from the city, the hostel, the streets. Group members are encouraged to sit in the wildlife area or the social space and just enjoy the fresh, green environment just as much as they are encouraged to get their hands dirty and learn horticulture skills.

We also like to take trips out to green spaces so the group members can benefit from passively being in a natural environment, away from the working space.


Last week we visited Milton Country Park in North Cambridge. It used to be an old quarry but now has been developed into a lovely green space with native planting/ lakes and is maintained by the council.


Whilst we walked around the lakes Peter told us all about the different bird calls we could hear. Sue said that she felt really relaxed and happy in the woods. Jo stood and breathed in the fresh air. Keith wandered off into the trees. I could see the benefits straight away as tense shoulders dropped, faces brightened up and we all relaxed.


We spotted lots of beautiful wildlife and got some new ideas for our project including the amazing heron sculpture and natural fencing .

We also stopped for a coffee and I surprised three of the Horticulture Certificate students by presenting them with their certificates for another completed unit of work.

Now it’s time for us to get back to work, it’s a busy time at the allotment. But I recommend to anyone reading this to make some time to get out in the woods or by the sea or even in a local park regularly. You will notice the benefit yourself.

Ruth 🙂

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Celebrating Riverside Garden Project’s 1st Birthday

On the 15th March we celebrated a year (and a bit) of successful Social/ Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) practice at Riverside Garden Project.

As part of a redevelopment of the accommodation and offices at the Riverside accommodation project for homeless people in Cambridge (then known as The 2’s) several years ago, there was a memorial garden and allotment space added to the back of the buildings. But unfortunately without anyone specifically managing the space it became very overgrown and unused. In 2015, I wrote to the then manager John Cross to suggest that we work together to develop it into a STH project. So, after several months of planning and fundraising (mainly by staff member Jean-Mary) we got the project off the ground on the 11th January 2016.


Since then we have had 35 participants at the project from the Riverside hostels, some attend on a regular basis and some just drop in occasionally. Some of our regulars have now moved on the more permanent accommodation and occupation.

The participants at the project quote many reasons for their attendance including benefits to their mental and physical health, relaxation, social, keeping busy, learning skills, being part of something positive, confidence building. We do have a good laugh too.

The gardens have been transformed already! Here’s some before and after photos –

So, we thought we would have a celebration of all the hard work that the group have put in over the last 14 months.

Members of the group showed a film crew, regional staff and other visitors around the gardens whilst some decided to keep working as usual.

Then we planted a weeping cherry tree. Several of the current group members helped to dig the hole, plant the tree, back fill and water it.

Cheered on by some of the visitors.


It was a great day of celebration for all of the hard work that the residents at the hostels have done to make the gardens beautiful and plentiful. And the sun came out!

Watch this space for updates on how the project develops even more.

Ruth 🙂



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Yay! It’s March at the Allotment Project!

After a long winter working outdoors I’m always happy to see the beginning of Spring budding. At the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project we have been enjoying the first day of March and even a bit of sunshine this week.

This time of year is when things start to get busy and you realise that all the preparation and maintenance through the winter was worth it. Our beds are mulched and ready for planting. So, it was great to get cracking on the crops this week.

First, we checked the planting plans for vegetables, herbs and flowers and sorted out our stored seeds into monthly sowing groups.

Ben sowed some early peas into the prepared bed and James helped him to cloche them to add a bit of protection as they germinate.

Yas and Pete took charge of some of the early non-hardy seeds. Including – 2 varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and aubergines. The small seeds were sown in rows in trays for pricking out at a later date.

Pete also showed Yas how to make our special recycled newspaper pots to sow the larger cucumber seeds into. You’ll be seeing more of these in the coming months when we start sowing more large seeds.


All the seeds were then watered and left to drain. Our non-heated polytunnel won’t keep our tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers warm enough to germinate or protect them from further frosts once they start growing. So, until the weather gets a bit better (by May) all the seeds will be kept safely warm and protected in my bathroom at home. Who needs a bath anyway?!

So, here goes – the season has started! Watch this space for developments.

Ruth 🙂