By Dr Kate Neale
It’s been nearly two years since Therapeutic Horticulture Australia (THA) was able to convene its popular Australian Therapeutic Landscapes Conference (#ATLC). COVID-19 and border restrictions continued to plague its planning in 2020, until finally the decision was made to take it online.
Online formats have their advantages. In many ways it makes attendance more accessible and inclusive to those who can’t bear the burden of the inevitable cost of travel. But for those who have attended any of the last few National conferences would know, a special type of magic happens when we come together in the same room on the day. So how did the inaugural online #ATLCfare?
Hosted in September 2021, the conference promised a full day of presentations, conversations, networking opportunities and thoughtful debate. The program outlined a suite of live presentations from Australian and International speakers. Something not quite realised in its planning, one delegate commented that after 18 months of no international travel and a really insular perspective on life in Australia brought about through COVID19, to have international presenters from the UK, Canada and Singapore, felt like the world had been opened back up to us somewhat.
There was a thoughtful blend of topics on the “main stage” exploring the role of therapeutic spaces in care settings by Allison Williams1, the need to restore nature if we are in hope of Nature restoring us from Simon Morrison2, and an exploration by Sue Stuart-Smith3 of the presence of therapeutic horticulture throughout history which served to inspire our work into the future. This was fitting, given the THA research sub-committee4 presented the findings of their survey mapping therapeutic horticulture research and practice across Australia, and the audience were clearly ready for a robust debate on how we elevate it beyond a field of interest and towards a formally recognised industry or sector, as provoked by Kate Lee, Sara Barron and John Rayner. The survey findings, and robust enthusiasm of the crowd to engage in Barron, Lee and Rayner’s national teaching framework, illuminate the desire and need for formalisation of therapeutic horticulture training and education in Australia.
As always, the conference program also showcased the great work of individual programs and practitioners across Australia. Lunchtime workshops invited delegates to participate in a range of activity-based learning including a presentation of the foundations of successful programming, an abridged version of forest bathing, an introduction to mindfulness in the garden, a journey of restoration for people and place after bushfires, and an explanation of weaving occupational therapy into horticulture. The theme of restoration continued with a reminder to “Go Slow for a Mo”.
In order to showcase as many great projects in Australia as possible but feeling confined by only having so many hours in the day, a call for pre-recorded 30 minute presentations was sent out in advance of the conference. It was well received with eleven submissions accepted on a variety of topics and contexts. Although left for people to enjoy within the virtual lunch break, with over five and a half additional hours of content, it was clear delegates would need to log back into the online portal and watch at some stage over the additional three months the content is available to them.
The ability to capture and archive presentations in the conference portal serves as a great reminder of the benefit of online formats. Instead of a flurry of business cards, scribbled notes and promise of future distributed pdfs, all delegates can access recordings in one easy-to-navigate place.
Due to its success and action-packed program, THA has made all recordings available to delegates for the next three months. If you missed the conference, you are able to buy your own three-month access to the recordings at tha.org.au/conference.
By the end of the day, there was a clear mandate for THA moving forward. The take-home message of the 2021 Australian Therapeutic Landscape Conference was the important role of THA in rousing a collective voice and united effort to raise the profile and quality of TH programs and practitioners in Australia. The conference continues to be an important event in the calendar for inspiring and driving this, and the question for the conference committee next year, will be how we can deliver the in-person networking opportunities we all know and love, and ensure all is captured and made available to a wider audience who may not be able to travel, or wish to watch again and again.
1. Professor, School of Earth, Environment & Society, McMaster University
2. Co-founder and Director, Field Labs
3. Psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of The Well Gardened Mind
4. Dr. Kate Neale (SCU), Dr. Theresa Scott (UQ), Dr. Pauline Marsh (UTAS), D Amy Baker (Uni SA), Dr. Jonathon Kingsley (Swinburne), Assoc. Professor John Rayner (Uni of Melb), Dr. Sara Barron (Uni of Melb) and Jen Reed.
Dr Kate Neale
Research Fellow at the
Centre for Children and Young People,
Southern Cross University and the
Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology
Vice President of Therapeutic Horticulture Australia