Composting workshop in Villa Chelsea’s Nature Therapy garden

Composting workshop in Villa Chelsea’s Nature Therapy garden

Last month the Nature Therapy project brought a new concept to the clients and staff at Villa Chelsea: composting! Enthusiastic composters Alexandra Cachia and Juan Manuel Burgos of Thrive Permaculture Solutions came over to teach all of us the ins and outs of composting.

We started the workshop with a little exercise to get to know each other and find out what we thought composting means. A ball of thread was passed around a circle, crossing the middle several times, until we had all shared our name and our idea of composting, and had formed a living ‘web of life’, our own connected community.

The web we created visualised the way in which everything in nature is connected. In terms of composting, we can observe the following cyclical process: a tiny seed is planted in the soil, and develops to become a tree, a leafy lettuce or a tomato plant. The tree’s wood can be turned into paper and cardboard. The lettuce and tomato become a salad. A used cardboard box or a piece of paper that is scribbled full can be torn up and added to the compost heap. Same goes for the kitchen scraps left over from making our salad. In a compost bin we add equal volumes of different “green” materials, such as vegetable and fruit scraps and grass clippings (nitrogen rich materials), as well as “brown” materials, such as paper, cardboard, sawdust and straw (carbon rich materials). Over time, under the right temperature, moisture and aeration conditions, micro-organisms start breaking down the materials we added and slowly our “waste” is broken down so small and so completely that it turns into a rich, dark material: compost. This compost is full of nutrients and is an essential element to add to the soil, to replenish the nutrients and create the right conditions for new seeds to grow. And so it continues.

We learned that so many items we throw away on a daily basis in our rubbish bin can actually be composted to create a new resource. For a full list of what you can and cannot compost, have a look in the table below.

After learning about the theory of composting, we stepped outside into the garden to create a simple, homemade compost bin for Villa Chelsea. Using 4 wooden pallets we created a simple wooden box that can be put straight on the soil in a corner in the garden. For the compost to break down well, the position is ideally in the half shade and half sun, so that it receives enough warmth, but does not heat up too much. To start the compost bin, we created a bottom layer with wooden twigs and dried plant material from the garden, and then added pieces of paper and cardboard and kitchen scraps. We added some water and covered it with some further dried material to keep away fruit flies and nasty smells. And that’s all we needed to get  started, now the clients and staff of Villa Chelsea can separate their waste in the kitchen and take all compostable materials down to their compost bin, saving resources from ending up in a landfill, and adding valuable nutrients to their beautiful garden!

What to compost (and what not)

What to compost
Brown materials Green materials
Dry leaves Green leaves
Paper Vegetable scraps
Cardboard Fruit scraps
Toilet rolls Tea bags
Newspapers Coffee grounds
Straw Egg shells
Twigs / branches Chicken manure
Hair / nail clippings
Cotton (buds, cloth)
What NOT to compost
Cat / Dog litter Processed food
Pasta / Grains Cooked food
Polyester cloth Treated wood
Plastic / Metal / Glass Meat / Fish
Dairy Cigarettes

The Therapy through Nature project will see the organization of a number of hands-on workshops for the clients and staff of Villa Chelsea and the wider community, about the basics of vegetable gardening, composting, water use and water saving, organic gardening and permaculture, seed saving and plant propagation, ways to attract pollinators in the garden, and the preparation of fresh, healthy food from a kitchen garden.

Villa Chelsea is a therapeutic community managed by the Richmond Foundation that provides a residential and day community-based programme and respite care for persons with mental health problems, and supports clients to learn the skills that empower them to live an independent life in the community.

For further information, please have a look at the Therapy through nature project page or email Suzanne Maas on

Find out more about Thrive Permaculture Solutions on