Q&A discussion with Wellness and Horticultural Therapist Andrea Doran of Flourish Glasgow on the topic of Scottish Horticulture and Horticultural Therapy in Scotland.
If Scotland is going to green up its act, sustainable organic Scottish horticulture needs to come much more to the forefront. Growing has innumerable benefits for the environment (e.g. soaking up CO2, increasing biodiversity, retaining rainwater and reducing flooding) and for the people (reconnecting with nature and improved health and happiness).
Glasgow based Andrea Doran is a qualified Wellness Therapist and an avid horticulturist who has more recently become involved in Horticulture Therapy which advocates people’s engagement in gardening and plant-based activities to promote well-being. Andrea has been a practising Wellness Therapist for over 10 years in the Lanarkshire area.
You can get in touch with Andrea via her website.
Q. So Andrea, you are a big fan of horticulture. Do you do a bit of everything or does your passion lie in one specific area?
A. I’m passionate about green things growing. I enjoy a bit of everything. For the past few years my focus has been on organic gardening and the kitchen garden (or “Kailyaird” as it’s known in Scotland). I like potager gardens. It’s an opportunity to grow everything, fruit, veg, herbs and flowers, even a little patch of lawn.
Q. What got you into horticulture in the first place and how many years have you been gardening?
A. I’ve always loved being surrounded by plants. My home is usually full of houseplants, current count 37, and I’ve been interested in the medicinal qualities of herbs for many years, which crosses over well with my therapy work. It was only 15 years ago that I decided to develop my interest more and study horticulture and garden design. I’m a newbie really.
Q. I guess one never stops learning when it comes to horticulture? Is there something that you always struggle to grow successfully and, more positively, is there something that you are a dab hand at?
A. Gardening is lifelong learning, that’s one of the reasons it’s so appealing to me. It’s not an exact science either. Sure, there are general ‘rules’ but you can grow something really successfully one year and not the next and not really know why. I’m not very good at growing annual flowers from seed, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s at a stage where the seeds can sense my tension and I jinx them from the off! One exception is Ipomoea (Morning Glory), which always does well for me, but to be fair to them, they’re really good fast growers that don’t need a great deal of attention.
Q. Horticulture is getting more and more popular. Have you noticed more people in your area getting out and about in their gardens and allotments?
A. I’ve certainly noticed an increased interest in food growing, which has risen hugely for many reasons. Waiting lists for allotments have increased dramatically and people are keen to move away from mass produce. Community gardening is a growing interest too, which is wonderful. And therapeutic horticulture is slowly getting some of the recognition it deserves.
Q. What more do you think can be done to promote organic Scottish horticulture?
A. It’s important to remove the fear factor from horticulture, fully promoting it as an inclusive activity – it’s for everyone no matter your age, fitness level, ability, knowledge, location or budget. There can be an earnestness in horticulture, and sometimes an element of snobbery, that can be quite off-putting to a lot of people. Knowing the botanical name of the Argentinian Trumpet Vine doesn’t make you a gardener – growing strawberries in a pot or herbs in a window box makes you a gardener.
Q. Is Scotland a particularly testing place to grow fruit and veg? Could we become self sufficient if we tried hard enough or is the climate too harsh?
A. I think Scotland is an excellent place to grow fruit and veg and why not aim for self sufficiency? It’s all about the right plant in the right place. We may not be able to replicate the enormous variety that we’ve grown accustomed to in supermarkets, and the soil and climate can often be challenging, but a lot of fruit and veg grow very well here, and some varieties that are traditionally found in warmer climes can be grown under glass or with protection from the elements. I saw a TV program where a guy in Aberdeen was successfully growing bananas, so anything’s possible!
Q. Do you have any gardening heroes? Any authors that you would recommend?
A. I tend to dip in and out of books. I’m currently flicking through ‘Monty Don at Longmeadow’. Monty’s an excellent broadcaster and fantastic gardener; he’s very accessible in his approach and manages to demystify gardening whilst marvelling at the magic of it all. I’m also reading Richard Reynolds’ ‘On Guerilla Gardening’. It raises some interesting socio-economic questions and I love the idea that chucking a handful of flower seeds over a piece of wasteland in a city makes you an outlaw!
Q. What about modern horticultural techniques and movements. Is there anything in particular that is exciting you right now about modern horticulture?
A. Gardening has become increasingly political and I like it! There’s a definite pull towards permaculture, organic Scottish horticulture and changes in technique like “no-dig”, although sadly these things are still not a big focus in further education courses on horticulture. I think increasing interest in natural growing methods has been in line with our widening interest in food growing, with more of us getting to know our soil and environment. There’s no place for toxic chemicals in gardening. Vested interests would have us believe they are essential for weed control, that weeds are the enemy – point the gun, spray some hazardous nonsense and it’s gone. A weed is a plant like any other, it’s just unwanted in a particular place, but if we get to know more about how they reproduce then we can control them better naturally. “No dig” has been working well for me and I also find it more inclusive – it’s an ideal way for people who have limited physical mobility or restrictive health conditions to tend the soil.
Q. You work as a Horticultural Therapist. Could you explain what Horticulture Therapy involves.
A. Horticultural Therapy is using gardening to bring about positive change in our lives, to renew and heal ourselves. When we focus on nurturing plants, the same happens for us too. We empower ourselves with new knowledge and skills. Therapeutic horticulture has been happening for centuries but is still perceived as something quite new, almost revolutionary, and I think this is an indication of how far removed we’ve become from our surroundings. We need to acknowledge that we are a part of nature, just like any other, and we have a connection with other living organisms. That’s why gardening is so therapeutic; it’s instinctive, natural.
Q. What would you like to see happen in the near future in regard to Scotland and Horticulture?
A. This is a very interesting question and a complicated one to answer, especially considering the recent events in regards to the EU. There is a changing political landscape in Scotland and this is bound to have an impact on every aspect of life here, including horticulture. I’d like to see more facility for homegrown produce – less food miles. I’ve just looked up a famous supermarket’s website to see where their rosemary is produced and it said ‘U.K., the Canary Islands, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Portugal and Spain’. A plant that grows successfully in Scotland doesn’t need to be imported from Egypt. I’d also like to see more investment in utilising wastelands in cities, the outdoor spaces at medical centres and hospitals and for companies to improve their working environments by installing more greenery in their offices. The smallest things can often make a huge difference.
I hope you agree this has been a fascinating interview with Andrea and one that has raised some very important points. If you fancy speaking more with Andrea about organic Scottish horticulture or horticulture therapy you can visit Andrea’s website.