Learning Benefits: How gardening can develop new skills

Gardening offers many learning opportunities that can enhance our lives, boosting our confidence and self-esteem, as Carly’s story shows.

Carly holding plants in Thrive_quote_s glasshouse

When there’s a physical job to be done in the gardens at Thrive, there’s a good chance you’ll find Carly doing it.

Carly is a client gardener who has been coming to Thrive Reading for nearly 10 years and in that time has been on a journey of learning and personal development which has resulted in a horticultural qualification and a whole lot more besides.

Attending sessions twice a week and supported by horticultural therapists and volunteers, Carly, 31, has learnt a lot about gardening, particularly how to use the tools that help get the job done.

`I’ve learnt to use a lawn mower, how to do composting and how to use a jet washer to clean the paths,’ she says. `I enjoy doing more physical jobs outdoors like using a wheelbarrow to move bark chippings.’

Hitting out

The emotional benefits of time in the garden and in nature are also clear when Carly recalls how she felt before coming to Thrive: 'I used to be really angry and hit things and hit people,’ she recalls.

`When I heard about Thrive, I thought "This sounds something new" but I didn’t realise that I would enjoy it as much as I do. Being here doing the physical jobs takes all the anger away. I like it and it makes me feel happier.’

Research has shown that gardening and nature-based activities have the benefit of increasing our work skills and sense of personal achievement and that is certainly true for Carly.

Like all clients coming to Reading, Carly has a small plot that she is responsible for: 'I’ve learnt how to grow things like potatoes, carrots and different flowers, annual and perennial. The plot is going well and I’m starting to put new stuff in it now.’

One result of Carly’s growing gardening knowledge was she undertook a City & Guilds Level One Diploma in Work-based Horticulture which combined a mixture of practical assignments and written work. With support from Thrive Horticultural Therapists and volunteers, Carly successfully passed her assessments and is rightly proud of her achievement.

Independent living

Taking part in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture brings physical, emotional, social and learning benefits which have a positive impact in other areas of life. For example, gardening tasks can help improve dexterity and coordination which for Carly resulted in being able to tie her own shoe laces, a small but significant step towards more independent living.
Carly with her beetroot and chocolate brownie

A fully-equipped and accessible kitchen for clients at Thrive Reading provides an opportunity to use the fruit and vegetables they have grown from seed in the gardens to produce meals, another valuable life skill, and Carly has recently been helping to make soup, crumbles and some very delicious beetroot and chocolate brownies.

But gardening remains her main love and working with other client gardeners, volunteers and staff has made Carly a far more social person.

`I have made loads of friends and find it easier to talk to people here as I’m more confident now.’

That confidence is reflected in her pleasure at being made an Ambassador for Thrive, a role where she’s enthusiastically accepted opportunities to talk about what Thrive means to her, doing radio interviews and speaking public engagements.

It seems fair to say that gardening has given Carly an appetite for learning and gaining new skills that shows little sign of waning. What’s the next challenge? `I think I’d like to learn how to use a strimmer.’

If past experience is anything to go by, Carly will be ticking that off her to-do list very soon.




Sign saying Thrive Learn

Learn more


Discover more about how gardening can improve health and wellbeing at Thrive Learn where we offer courses to deepen your knowledge and understanding. 

Check out these free, multimedia courses:

What is Social and Therapeutic Horticulture?

What is Green Care?

Interested in developing a horticultural therapy programme? Have a look at our Award in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Programme Development.



Tips for easier gardening - Growing plants in containers


Spring flowers in containers

Containers, whether small ones at ground level or taller ones which you can reach without much bending, offer a manageable way to grow plants.

Plastic containers retain moisture better than clay or earthenware and are lighter and easier to lift.

Place you containers where they are easy to reach and near a water point. Placing several containers together will make watering easier.

A layer of gravel or shingle on top of compost will improve drainage through the container and reduce weeds.



Find out more



Gardening with a disability? 

Thrive's
 Carry on Gardening website has lots more practical tips to help you continue gardening. 
  Social Benefits

Read how gardening can help overcome social isolation or go back to our It's Not Just Gardening campaign page.
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