By Benedetta Martin
Recently I caught up with Emma Lewellyn to hear about her exciting work with migrants and refugees within the Adelaide community in South Australia.
Emma is a horticulturalist and natural therapies practitioner by trade and she has a background in design and education. Her practice is firmly planted in the ethics and principles of permaculture, honoring both earth care and people care.
Emma is a practicing horticultural therapist at Adelaide Botanic Garden where she has been responsible for designing and delivering therapeutic gardening pilot programs for vulnerable cohorts in the community.
The Botanic Gardens of South Australia (BGSA) in collaboration with the Australian Migrant Resource Centre (AMRC) designed and delivered a Therapeutic Horticulture program called The Global Garden for and with vulnerable cohorts such as migrants and refugees, inviting them to create and participate in a process of place-making, belonging and celebration of culture by identifying and cultivating culturally significant plants.
Emma previously worked as a garden educator at a primary school that had a large student population, about 50% of them new migrants and refugees. At this school she had an experience that affected her deeply. Beyond her own personal experience, Emma saw first hand the positive impact gardens could have on people’s sense of well being and belonging. A Persian boy, in his first few weeks of school, went with his class to the kitchen garden for the first time. He had very little English, was in a foreign country, a foreign culture and foreign classroom. Emma was standing on the verandah greeting the class as they entered the garden. The boy looked at her briefly but his attention was captured by the tree behind Emma. His face was suddenly animated with enthusiasm. He shouted ‘anar’, ran to Emma and tugged at her sleeve, pointing at the pomegranate fruit as he continued to exclaim ‘anar!’ And in a moment, seeing a plant and food that he had a deeply personal and positive connection with, the boy found a place in that garden. This experience really paved the way for the Global Garden.
The aims of The Global Garden – a multicultural place-making program – were increasing belonging and connection to place, increasing confidence, increasing social connection, and enhancing physical, mental, emotional and psychosocial wellbeing.
Before the start of the program, Adelaide Botanic Garden hosted two information sessions with the generous support of cultural leaders AMRC senior manager, Cynthia Caird, and Durkhanai Ayubi, of Parwana, Adelaide. Emma organized this as she wished to deliver a message to the refugees and migrants attending these sessions: creating good and solid relationships with bodies such as AMRC is key for programs such as the Global Garden to be successful as this could generate future pathways for projects like this one to happen again and bring more benefit to communities most in need.
The project commenced in April 2021 and ended in July 2022. Data, including feedback from participants, was collected over the course of the program’s delivery period. The data and program’s report are now being evaluated so that next steps can be determined.
One of the successful outcomes of the program is that participants started to introduce friends and family to the gardens; like in the case of one participant who brought two friends from Afghanistan who arrived in South Australia the day before. This demonstrated what a strong welcoming component the Global Garden had and how participants felt confident and comfortable enough to introduce new people to THEIR garden.
Another example is one of the participants who showed Emma a picture of a sunflower on their phone and asked if they could grow this plant. They told Emma that the flower is special to them because it follows the sun and “It makes me feel well and happy.”
Sunflowers were not native to this person’s birth country and this experience highlighted the fact that there are many reasons that particular plants are special to people. This dismantled the initial assumption that the Global Garden would specifically reflect the participants’ countries of origin, and the importance of constantly accepting feedback and creatively responding to change.
The Global Garden has a unique plant collection in the context of a Botanic Garden as it is a living collection of people’s stories.
Other feedback was that most participants were particularly interested in learning practical skills and understanding what one can grow in South Australia.
To make everyone feel accepted and included multilingual plant signage was used to identify the various crops. This reinforced a sense of belonging and ownership.
The importance of this project is much bigger to what the eye can see: the Global Garden is an example of how big, public institutions such as Botanic gardens can have a positive impact on marginalized communities actively engaging vulnerable or underrepresented cohorts and offering a safe place for relationship building.