Award ceremony in Sonairte’s Great Hall with Veronica Mac Farlane (STH teacher), Dónal Black (sponsor of project) and proud students Nessa, Stephen, David, Patrick, Sinéad, Mary Catherine, Darren and Gerard showing their certificates presented by Trevor Sargent (Chairperson of Sonairte).

Sonairte, the National Ecology Centre in Laytown was buzzing today. After a 6 week pilot programme teaching Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH), 8 ‘budding gardeners’ from Meath to Monaghan assembled in the Great Hall at Sonairte with their families and carers to receive their certificates of achievement. This STH course was devised and taught by Veronica Mc Farlane, a horticulturalist and special needs teacher who volunteers in the 2 acre organic walled garden at Sonairte in east Meath. www.sonairte.ie. John Delaney of the Drogheda Arts Club was a key architect of the project also. Sponsorship by way of tools and materials was generously donated by Dónal Black of Black’s Garden Centre, Julianstown, nearby, who was presented with a copy of the book, ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden‘ in appreciation of his generosity.

Many studies worldwide have shown how gardening has significant mental and physical health benefits. Southhampton NHS in England runs a regular 8 week gardening course as a treatment for depression. American universities in Texas, Arkansas and Kansas have all undertaken studies to quantify mental and physical health benefits of horticulture. Sonairte is now gearing up to provide a diploma course in social and therapeutic horticulture. There is no such professional training in Ireland which can equip service providers with the skills to teach social and therapeutic horticulture – as yet!

Sonairte in Laytown has the idyllic organic walled garden, Sunflower café, ecoshop, great hall, classrooms (outdoor and indoor), riverside walks, 18th century courtyards and good transport links. The ethos of the centre is expressed in the name Sonairte which is an old Irish word for ‘positive strength’. Social and therapeutic horticulture is all about helping people to play to their positive strengths and fulfill their untapped potential, by connecting with the positive strength of Mother Nature. Congratulations to all the pioneering young gardeners at Sonairte today – go n-éirí go geal leo!


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