The healing nature of plants
Horticulture is proving a turning point for volunteers as they cultivate plants and their own good health at The Historic Village in 17th Avenue.
Named after the Kopurererua area in which it’s located, ‘K’ Valley Natives is run by Turning Point Trust, a mental health and addiction service provider which has been helping people on their recovery journeys since 1996.
The nursery is managed by project leader Paddy Farrelly, with assistance from horticulturalist Kathy Palmer and a staff of six volunteers.
Being involved with seed collection, propagation and plant cultivation, provides nursery volunteers with a healthy dose of nature while participating in rewarding and meaningful work.
Most plants are eco-sourced from within the immediate Kopurererua area, including The Historic Village’s own six hectare grounds, to ensure the varieties grown remain ‘true’ to what was originally there.
Along the way, nursery volunteers learn skills like seed germination, how to grow cuttings, bagging-on (re-potting), and gain knowledge about plant health.
Volunteer staff are referred by various agencies including Turning Point Trust and occasionally the Department of Corrections.
“Because of who we are, things are run in a relaxed manner,” Kathy says.
“People have good days as well as not so good. Mental wellbeing is our main focus and tasks are secondary, although we get an amazing amount accomplished.
“All [paid] staff employed have had lived experience of mental health or addiction so we understand, are empathetic and non-judgemental.
“People do what they can, when they can. There is no pressure and everyone is here because they want to be,” Kathy says.
Volunteer Tony is a case-in-point. He’s not only happy to talk about the health challenges that brought him to the nursery for a ‘short time’ some years back; he’s still there today and an integral member of the team.
He’s developed a particular skill for growing beautiful varieties of manuka from seed and says being involved with Turning Point’s nursery has been a turning point for him personally.
He voluntarily mans the ‘K’ Valley Natives stall at the Historic Village on market mornings too.
A close relationship with ‘Kuaka’, a Tauranga company that provides overseas students with hands-on opportunities to learn about New Zealand’s ecology and conservation, has helped open doors for ‘K’ Valley Natives.
“Through that we’ve been able to develop networks with other groups that have required plants for riparian and ecological restoration work,” Paddy says.
Ongoing planting of natives – about 5000 to date – in the village grounds also keeps volunteers busy, as does maintaining Turning Point’s vegetable gardens.
Fresh veges are either taken home or used in Turning Point’s onsite kitchen to help prepare a free weekly meal.
‘K’ Valley Natives’ plants have provided greenery for events around Tauranga, and the team donated vegetable seedlings to help establish a therapy garden for school children living with challenges such as autism.
While the nursery isn’t specifically set up to be a ‘business’ it’s nevertheless a therapeutic activity that also happens to produce a useful product.
That includes some of the “biggest and best Kahikatea trees around,” Paddy says.
“We’re an organisation that’s focused on community health and wellbeing. Our focus is on our clients, and in the healing process they’re working with plants.
“There’s not a lot of the natural ecology left [in Tauranga] so it’s rewarding to be able to do something in that line that’s making a difference.”
The best thing about his role is seeing the positive changes for his team from just being in amongst nature.
“Nature’s enabled them to find themselves again, get back on track, get a fixed point where they’re at, and go back to being who they want to be.
“It would be really nice to see more ecological restoration that groups like us can assist with,” Paddy says.