Column | Supporting Recovery through Nature: Care Gardens

In July 2023, AIT staff visited the Netherlands to explore the practice of art and mental health in the fields of art and welfare, visiting museums, welfare organizations, art spaces, and others. This mini-column introduces “Care Farms” and “Care Gardens,” mechanisms that promote social participation through farming and garden activities for youth with experiences of withdrawal, mental health issues, and other difficulties.

Alternative Care Garden

Care farms emerged around the 1990s in various parts of Europe as one of the support measures for people with disabilities and socially vulnerable individuals, providing support through agricultural activities. Research on care farms and social farms has been conducted in recent years at institutions such as Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Located in the suburbs about an hour and a half from the center of Amsterdam, “Care Farm De Moestuin van Jagtlust” is an alternative care garden founded by four members, including a child psychiatrist and a financial planner, and those who have long been involved as committee members of the Dutch national artist-in-residence program and former staff of the Dutch National Museum. This care garden allows youths, especially those with experiences of withdrawal and mental health issues, to actively participate in activities and management while utilizing their own interests.


Moreover, it is an open place where people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can grow vegetables, plants, and flowers and participate at their own pace while joining the care garden. Originally, the site where this care garden is located was a mansion owned by Dutch nobles, now preserved as a cultural heritage site. It features small-scale permaculture-style gardens and fields utilizing a 400-year-old building and garden. Currently, it collaborates with local social welfare organizations and accepts facility users as a day service. 

The brick-made flower beds, once used as a greenhouse 400 years ago, now have glass windows installed and are used as vegetable gardens. Additionally, the barn with high architectural value is rented out as a meeting space for nearby companies, providing services offering original dishes made from freshly harvested vegetables and fruits. Such programs at suburban care gardens are popular among companies for employee education and meeting spaces, providing stable income support for care garden operation. Furthermore, harvested vegetables are sold to local residents, receiving favorable responses.

Rather than a place to care for people, it is a place where individuals care for themselves through nature

In the expansive garden, herbs, seasonal flowers, and wild grasses are planted, creating a lively garden that respects the inherent life of nature. Behind this philosophy lies the pioneering garden design of Piet Oudolf, a Dutch garden designer known for his naturalistic planting techniques using plants native to the area, and the influence of Henk Gerritsen, who emphasized the “naturalness of the garden.”

Western honeybee beekeeping is also conducted in a corner of the garden, and on the day of the visit, there were busy bees coming and going from the hives under the warm sunshine. One of the youths guided the AIT staff to the location of the beehive and told that they are in charge of taking care of the small bees every day.

Volunteer staff consider the mood and physical condition of participants for activities to be participated in comfortably. With a system where one staff or volunteer cares for one or two users, there is no transportation service, and basically only participants who can come on their own are accepted. It is described as “a place where participants are cared for through nature rather than a place to care for people.”

Among various care farms operating in the Netherlands in various scales and forms, this care garden may be a rare case among social farms because it aims for a gentle and free operation. Some opine that many others are operated more systematically.

What was impressive about visiting the care garden was that both the founding members and the youth volunteers were genuinely involved in gardening and farming activities, regardless of their titles or positions, which was evident in their expressions. One of the youths shyly but proudly told the AIT member about the tomatoes and herbs he was taking care of, as well as the names and stories of the dogs in the garden. 

Visiting Dutch care gardens, seeing people spending time in equal relationships with nature, respecting grasses, flowers, and insects, made me think again about choices in work and attitudes toward nature.

When one of the AIT members asked one of the founding members about future activities, they mentioned planning to establish another care farm as one of the support measures for refugees.

In Japan, mechanisms that slowly improve mental health and self-esteem through nature, such as farms, gardens, and animal care, according to individual needs and interests, may be one of the reference activities in the fields of welfare systems, education, and initiatives combining care and art.

Destination: Care Farm De Moestuin van Jagtlust
Location: Leeuwenlaan 44a, 1243 KB ’s-Graveland(オランダ)
Visit Date: July 25, 2023 (Tuesday)
Participants:Mira Coe, Dianne Van As(Moestuin van Jagtlust)、Hans Luien (Museum of the Mind Director)
Assistance during the hearing: 3 youth participants


Text & Photos:Rika Fujii