Visit to Cherry Tree Nursery, Bournemouth, 17th July 2019

Upon arriving at the Cherry Tree open day, I was greeted warmly by Ian, who has been volunteering with Cherry Tree Nursery since its inception in the early 1990s. The charity provides sheltered work rehabilitation in a supportive but realistic working environment for people with severe and enduring mental illness and has seen over 700 volunteers participate in the last 30 years.

Ian kindly offered to give me a personal tour of the impressive 4.5 acre garden and was eager to answer any questions I had, ranging from how volunteers are inducted into the programme to the process of propagation of shrubs and perennials.

Cherry Tree Nursery accepts referrals or self-referrals from people with a primary mental health diagnosis to be a volunteer and also welcomes anyone eager to be a ‘volunteer friend’. This is on the basis of a two-way assessment that the nursery may provide meaningful occupation for an individual. Presently, there are approximately 100 volunteers and 60 volunteer friends who take on different roles within the nursery. Many of these volunteers have found difficulty gaining or regaining employment in part due to stigma surrounding their mental health diagnosis.

The nursery propagates new plants by taking cuttings from perennials and shrubs - latterly the perennials have been more popular (see image). These cuttings are planted at one end of a greenhouse, initially spending time in a hot and humid bed, and over time the plants will progress through several stages of growth, eventually reaching the other side of the greenhouse and ready to proceed further on to life in larger pots! It was not difficult to see the appeal and identify with the significance of taking part in this process of growth both in a symbolic and practical sense.

As I walked around the nursery with Ian, the atmosphere made a real impression on me. Not least in the air of calmness and serenity visible from the demeanour of the practicing horticulturalists! There was a strong sense that each person was very happy to be there. Each volunteer was firmly engaged in the task they were occupied with, yet relaxed enough to greet me or ask what had brought me to the nursery today.

The layout of the nursery was very neatly arranged and it appeared as if each person knew their role and how it fit into the larger function of the whole nursery. This would not come as a surprise if I had known the efficiency of the garden - producing over 100,000 shrubs, perennials, climbers, grasses, trees, bamboos, ferns, conifers, bedding, herbs, alpines, roses, trees, bushes, and vegetables for sale to the public! The commercial side of the nursery has understandably taken on a greater role to secure the long term sustainability of the project since public funding was entirely withdrawn some years ago. Despite this there remains a strong sense that the project is for the benefit of volunteers.

In support of this view, there were several creative, inspirational or touching posters interspersed around the garden, all aptly mental health themed (see image). Of perhaps greater significance is the fact that 6 volunteers are just completing an 18 month course with the Royal Horticultural Society, funded by the Cherry Tree Nursery, with a further 9 currently undergoing training.

Following Ian’s tour, Miranda, Roy and myself met with the talented manager of Cherry Tree, Tish, for a generous open day lunch. Tish explained the confidence the course had given the volunteers and the present Trustees expressed our enthusiasm for the Beer-Harris Memorial Trust to consider funding further training in the near future!

We wish the Cherry Tree all the best and, as of July 2019, look forward to receiving an application soon!

Written by Josh Beer, trustee

The Beer-Harris Memorial Trust (formerly The Dominic Beer Memorial Trust) is a registered charity in England (1155652)