Cultivate - the Horticultural Therapy Society of NSW

28 Feb 2018

Destiny Haven for Women

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Read about a residential place of healing for women whose lives have been shattered by life controlling illnesses such as drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harm and how their gardening program has helped set many free to step into their destiny.

They’re known as the “Diamonds”. An appropriate name for the residents of Destiny Haven because they are all on their own personal journey of transformation. Some from abuse, some from addiction, some from self-loathing, but with time and counsel (perhaps some cutting and polishing), they will graduate as shining examples of what a life transformed can achieve and discover their true worth.


One such Diamond is Michelle, or Shelly, as she’s called. She has a deep passion for plants and gardening is her favourite pastime. Her keenness was noticed by Destiny Haven’s Co-Founder and CEO Janine Epere who then gave her the responsibility of heading up the Garden Operations.


Destiny Haven has given me hope, yet taught me that while some bad stuff happened to me, I was the one responsible for the choices that I made to take the drugs or the pills to behave as I did,” confesses Shelly.


Taking responsibility for their actions is a giant step in transformation for these Diamond girls and can take some time to make that step. The residential program at Destiny Haven uses a best practice, evidence based Recovery Model and participants stay for around 12 months on site. Set in the peaceful rural backdrop of Clarence Town near the Hunter Valley in NSW, the residential facility is a safe haven where the women can regroup, breath and heal. 


Gardening for me has been the perfect way for me to work on developing and learning new skills, an ability to stay present and focus, building my confidence and self-esteem, and to work through problems. To witness a garden that I have nurtured flourish from a plot of empty soil into a vibrant ecosystem is one of the most satisfying accomplishments there is and creates a powerful sense of purpose,” Shelly said. “It is crucial in gardening to create the ideal environment in which a plant can thrive, and which I’ve learnt, that I need a healthy environment within myself to overcome my addiction and Destiny creates the ideal environment for a person to thrive and grow or flourish into all they can be."


There are many parallels between the growth of a plant and the process of recovery and analogies for life situations can be used effectively in treatment or counselling. 


It can be difficult after graduating from residential drug and alcohol rehab to discover ways to fill leisure time with family that had originally been taken up by substance abuse. Gardening is that way for me, but also as a form of re-growth through learning, staying present and focused, developing and building on skills, as well as becoming a means for me of meeting new people.  That has helped me continue to grow and flourish,” added Shelly.


The work of Destiny Haven is carried out by skilled and caring professionals, but it’s also supported through a team of volunteers who give their time helping with cooking, gardening, general maintenance, administration or cleaning. One of these volunteers is Peter, who is a qualified horticulturist but he hadn’t understood the value of gardens and gardening in a therapeutic setting before volunteering at Destiny Haven.


I first got involved with Destiny Haven when I joined a volunteer team from my church to do some practical maintenance jobs around the property. I was assigned to painting the roof. Whilst this was fine and I was happy to do so, secretly, I was busting to get down into the kitchen garden, that was my passion,” said Peter.


Another team was sent the following year; this time I lead a team to work on some garden projects. We achieved a lot over a few days, everything from replanting berry vines, building worm farms, mulching and making compost. I was impressed at the willing workers, in particular those who valiantly collected cow poo.”


“From that time on I’ve felt a real connection with Destiny Haven, there is something about the place that impacts you. There was a real sense of appreciation, thankfulness, love and forgiveness. This is a place where women’s lives are restored and made whole. 

Being involved in the garden is just a small part of that bigger picture. Not only does the garden provide a place to work, but also a space for the ‘Diamonds’ to stop, think, reflect and recharge.


Since then Peter has completed a Statement of Attainment in Therapeutic Horticulture at TAFE NSW and has learnt how to use the skills that he already had in a completely new and different way to see positive change occur in people’s lives.


Destiny Haven aims for sustainability as a social enterprise, selling quality handmade goods from their Diamond Collection, all made by the women involved in the recovery program. Not only does this generate income but also teaches valuable life skills. Another income stream and employment skills opportunity is achieved through their Valley View Retreat. A premium accommodation and retreat venue, the women maintain the lodge to a high standard for guests staying as a way to support the day to day operations of Destiny Haven.


To find out more about the transforming program for women at Destiny Haven visit their website at


For more information about staying at Valley View Luxury Retreat go to their website here.


To hear more testimonies about lives transformed at Destiny Haven, as spoken by the Diamonds themselves, click here.

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