Jinny Blom says therapeutic horticulture has real impact and is not just 'touchy-feely'

Garden designer Jinny Blom has spoken about therapeutic landscapes ahead of the Palmstead Nurseries workshop on the 24 September at in Kent, which focuses on designing spaces for health.

Jinny Blom - image: Nathalie Jouan
Jinny Blom - image: Nathalie Jouan

As artist in residence for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Blom’s role is ongoing and the work she creates for the hospital forms part of academic research into benefits on health.

She found garden design and landscape in her thirties after working for many years with a mental health charity and direct action community groups. Her former life helping men with schizophrenia reduce their drug intake and improve their mental health via horticultural therapy, informs everything she knows about creating well-designed spaces.

She said: "It’s common sense really. I know instinctively that our environmental landscape has a very potent effect on us; be it  good, bad or indifferent. Working in the late 1980s and early 1990s we were literally at the ‘cutting edge’ of mental health care. When the Industrial Therapy Unit at Vauxhall initiated the horticultural programme for psychiatric patients we were able to show that this wasn’t touchy feely sentimentalism, this was real direct action that made an impact on patients lives.

"I worked first with people, then food, then the environment and it actually took me a long time to put all the pieces together to come to the conclusion that what’s important to me is ‘the space that people live in’.  This underpins everything and if you can understand space and if you understand planting, then the rest happens by osmosis."

Blom set up her design practice in 2000 in London and has accumulated an extraordinary portfolio of work in the UK, Europe, Africa, Middle East and the USA creating more than 250 gardens and landscapes, private and public spaces. 

Blom added: "I’m a career ecologist and a plantswoman; rather than looking at tick-lists, I like to spend a lot of time ‘thinking’ about the project, making good choices so that I can do the thing properly and do it once."

"If you really understand plants then you are going to chose the right plant for the right environment and make good choices - it should be something that is inherent to your understanding of what you are doing."

She takes her inspiration still from her late psychology tutor Ian Gordon Brown, an industrial psychologist who was interested in action-centred psychology; looking at how we engage with things and how we can change things on a very practical level.  Blom said: "he died the year I started my practice but he’s the person who inspires me still, he was the one who joined the dots up for me and helped me understand that you don’t have to work one-to-one to provide therapy, that you can use the environment to work on a larger level."

Action and energy are important if you are a transpersonal psychologist - some one who literally uses action to change things, help people to grow and liberate themselves.  And Blom is keen to liberate ‘woolly’ attitudes about using garden design for wellbeing by sharing evidence-based information on what can really be achieved in the field.

As a Board Member of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network in New York, she is part of a community of international and multidisciplinary designers, health and human service providers, scholars and gardeners. The focus is broad, but the primary emphasis of the Network is on evidence-based design in healthcare settings.  Combining this with her role as artist in residence for CW+ at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, Blom hopes to prove that there is real academic information from the artistic initiatives undertaken by these organisations.  

Of the work at C+W in London, she said: "The results are academic, they have been monitored and recorded and prove that the art work can positively influence pain, stress and  reduce drug-intake.  If you can prove these initiatives work and that they can actually cut the NHS budget then it’s very worthwhile - it’s serious stuff."

Speakers at the 9th Palmstead Workshop 'what have plants done for us?' held at the Ashford International Hotel in Kent, will include Blom, botanist and curator of the Natural History Museum Dr Mark Spencer,  urban greening specialist Anne Jaluzot, RHS research fellow Dr Tiana Blanusa plus medics turned garden designers Jackie Herald and Shenagh Hume from Allergy UK.

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