Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) at Thrive

Take a holistic approach to conservation with Thrive

Do you have experience in health care? Do you want a career that promotes health and wellbeing but also enhances the environment? Thrive’s revolutionary therapy centres are integrating nature and health care. Will you join them?

Talking to Mark Lang, Thrive’s Communications Manager, it’s easy to feel the strong team ethics Thrive encourages. This was clearly seen when Mark requested the interview to be a team effort. Jan Broady, Thrive’s Senior Horticultural Therapist in Reading, shares her experiences working in the gardens. Damien Newman, Thrive’s Training and Education Manager, informs us of the career development opportunities at Thrive and Mark Lang, explains what it takes to be a horticultural therapist.

Read on if you would like to support a team that empowers others through horticultural therapy!

Mark Lang, Communications Manager

What is Thrive’s mission?

Thrive is a charity that uses gardening to improve people’s health and wellbeing. We do this in several ways…

Firstly, we run Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) programmes at three centres. These are Birmingham, London, and Berkshire. Our horticultural therapists at these centres, work with people with a wide range of disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Secondly, we provide training in STH to help others run programmes to support and improve people’s health and wellbeing. Our expertise in using gardening for health has benefited many people in this way.

Thirdly we run an information service to help people enjoy gardening and its benefits. We provide print and digital resources to help make gardening easier and more accessible to everyone. We respond to thousands of inquiries that we receive annually by phone, email and letter and actively use social media platforms to keep everyone up to date.

What is ‘Social and Therapeutic Horticulture’?

‘Social and Therapeutic Horticulture’ is a process where plants and gardens are used to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills. It also uses gardening as a safe, accessible activity, to develop someone’s ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent.

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in action at Thrive

Jan Broady, Thrive Reading Senior Horticultural Therapist

What steps did you take to begin your career at Thrive and what do you enjoy most about your work?

My background was in teaching. I love interacting with people and helping them progress. I really enjoyed my time in the special needs departments. I didn’t feel that the classroom was quite the right setting for me. I came across Thrive and began work in the information service. I then transferred into the client service as a trainee therapist completing some of Thrive’s courses and a City and Guilds course in horticulture.

One of the things I enjoy so much about the job is seeing the value and worth that the clients derive from their time at Thrive. It is meaningful occupation where they are given agency. They call it their place of work, and that is brilliant because we all gain skills and learn so much from our employment and businesses.

Would you like to share a positive experience you have had since working with Thrive?

Seeing the transformation in many of the school students that came to Thrive was great! When the group came to us for the first week, they were wary of the garden and viewed most things sceptically. Through our work together they increased in confidence and understanding. By the end of their time, they were creating plans for what they might do back home. Motivated to tend their plots, experimenting, they would move through the garden like locusts, eating most of the edible things on their way.

Seeing the change in their attitude towards the natural world was wonderful. They also achieved a qualification whilst doing so.

What achievements are Thrive most proud of since the charity was established?

Thrive has been running for more than 40 years and we are pleased that STH over that time has inspired others to enter this field and start projects around the UK which are improving the quality of people’s lives.

Garden beds at Thrive, which practices and teaches Social and Therapeutic Horticulture

Damien Newman, Training and Education Manager

What type of training does Thrive provide and who are the courses aimed at?

Thrive specialises in training people about Social and Therapeutic Horticulture so they can run, set-up or participate in projects to help people’s health and wellbeing through gardening.

We offer courses for beginners to STH, right through to experienced practitioners who are looking to continue their professional development.

Our courses are popular among those looking to change careers, with many people entering the profession from horticultural, health, social care or education backgrounds.

Before coronavirus, most of our training was delivered face-to-face in small groups at venues around the country. Now we are offering more online courses and blended learning opportunities which combine online materials with live virtual sessions with Thrive tutors.

For anyone that has studied health and/or social care, why would you recommend implementing horticultural therapy to their practice? 

Thrive like to think of the value of gardens and nature as an adjunct to existing health care approaches. For example, replica physiotherapy equipment could be designed into a garden to improve motivation to complete their exercises. A well-designed, calming garden could also be used for healthcare professionals to meet with patients.

Because gardening is an activity that can be accessed by people from all backgrounds, it’s an inclusive wait to bring people together. Gardening is fun and supports people towards defined outcomes without feeling like therapy.

Gardening as a therapeutic medium can be used in many contexts due to plants flexibility to grow indoors, outdoors and in small or large spaces. It’s an occupation with 100s of different tasks and approaches and can therefore be tailored to the specific desired outcomes.

Most importantly, the patients, service users, visitors and staff all benefit from the programme.

There are many courses available, which courses would you recommend for those that study or have studied conservation? And why? 

Many of the people who come on to our training courses have pre-existing skills and knowledge that is valuable in the field of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture and conservation and environmental backgrounds help. I would advise anyone who can’t identify the best course for them on our programme to get in touch as we can help you find what’s right for you.

Our course on ‘What is Social and Therapeutic Horticulture?’ is free to access and helps people understand how the therapeutic, conservation and environmental agendas overlap within our field.

What environmental principles do you teach through your course, both to the students and the service users? 

As we work towards improving health and wellbeing at Thrive, the by-product is flourishing gardens and improved environment. Being kind to nature has a value in the therapeutic process and so through our courses, we teach and share lots that supports pro-environmental behaviours.

What interchangeable skills do your courses provide for those who are in or looking to go into conservation? 

Many people working in conservation may come into contact with volunteers and members of the public accessing wilderness and nature sites and our courses would help them understand how to be more inclusive, in particular, how to support people faced with the challenge of disability and ill health in their lives.

After completing a course from Thrive what work opportunities do you offer?

One of the ways we help people find employment is by advertising STH vacancies with external organisations on our website. We also promote such opportunities via our Training, Education and Consultancy Newsletter which is free to subscribe to and is published bi-monthly.


For more on horticulture, you can also check out these horticulture interviews on our Careers Advice Blog. If you’d like to explore or start a career in botany, check out our Ultimate Guide How to become a botanist.


Author profile | Charlotte Taylor

Charlotte is a Wildlife Conservation student in Wales. Living in a hotspot for conservationists she’s surrounded with inspiration for her studies and blogs. Her favourite hobby is travelling and finding something interesting or beautiful in unexpected places. You can find out more on LinkedIn.


Careers Advice, Interviews, Communicator, Educator