Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: August 2022. 

Lemon Tree Trust’s work 

Why was Lemon Tree Trust set up? 

Lemon Tree Trust was set up by Stephanie Hunt in 2015. Stephanie served on the UNHCR Board of Trustees for several years and it was during a trip to refugee camps in Jordan – set up in response to the Syrian war – where she first noticed people were gardening, despite everything. Stephanie returned home to the USA determined to help resettled refugee communities in Dallas by establishing community garden sites in the city. The Lemon Tree Trust was established just a few years later to extend this work to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 

What does Lemon Tree Trust do?  

Lemon Tree Trust supports garden-based initiatives for people displaced by and war. We do this by supporting people to build home gardens and supporting communities to build community gardens (both ornamental and productive). 

Our activities are focused on four main impact areas: 

  • Improving mental health and wellbeing 
  • Community building and women’s empowerment 
  • Improving local environments 
  • Independent access to fresh food 

While other organisations in refugee and IDP (internally displaced people) camps facilitate basic humanitarian services for displaced people, Lemon Tree Trust is unique in that we address wellbeing, dignity and purpose, through gardening. 

Where does Lemon Tree Trust work? 

Since 2015 most of our work has been in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Azadi Community Garden in Domiz 1 camp was established in 2016 and since then, we have continued to roll out gardening activities to more refugee and IDP camps across the region – as interest and popularity has grown in our garden competitions.  

Map showing the refugee and IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where Lemon Tree Trust works

As at 2022, we are working in ten refugee and IDP camps (Domiz 1, Domiz 2, Bardarash, Bersive 1, Bersive 2, Essian, Gawillan, Kabartu 1, Kabartu 2 anKhanki), and have plans to set up gardening initiatives, including community gardens, in more camps across the region.   

While our efforts are largely focused in Kurdistan, we continue to partner with organisations in other countries.  

Our long-term vision is to expose every refugee camp in the world to garden competitions and gardening initiatives and to encourage self-sustaining ventures run by and for refugees.

What are your activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?  

We support the development of community garden spaces within refugee and IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to grow food and flowers for redistribution to vulnerable families. These gardens offer a place and sense of community.  

We run annual garden competitions to increase awareness about the benefits of gardening and to encourage home gardening. Our Garden of the Month prize, established in 2020, showcases the innovation and creativity of gardeners throughout the year. Garden competitions and prizes help create public awareness of the benefits of gardening, as well as recognising and encouraging people’s efforts. They also quickly identify expertise levels, potential community garden sites and future project leaders.  

In Domiz 1 camp, the LTT Azadi Community Garden provides a hub for women and their children to garden, learn new skills and socialise. It provides a safe space where we can encourage women’s empowerment.  

To date we have also partnered with the SEED Foundation [insert link] to create community gardens in Bersive 1 camp (IDP) and Bardarash camp (refugee). 

Why are you called Lemon Tree Trust? 

Lemons and other citrus fruit trees grow well across the middle east. It is a drought tolerant species that thrives in well-drained sandy soil, enjoying the hours of sunshine which bring on an abundance of fruit. The lemon tree is a symbol of peace in many middle eastern cultures; the fruit and leaves are also used in many Syrian and other middle eastern dishes and the tree itself provides welcome shade. 

One of the first things we did in Kurdistan was to give people lemon trees – it was a way to make connections, to strike up friendships and to begin a conversation about gardens and gardening. We gave out seeds and tree saplings and spoke to people about our idea of starting a garden competition in Domiz 1 camp. The lemon trees helped us gain people’s trust. It seemed fitting therefore that our organisation, borne out of the desire to provide seeds of hope and love to people who have had to leave their gardens far behind, was named Lemon Tree Trust. 

Why did you create a show garden at the 2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show?  

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the world’s most famous horticultural showcase – the pinnacle of gardening and viewed by a global audience. We wanted to highlight the unexpected beauty hidden in refugee camps, show the importance of gardens to displaced people trying to rebuild their lives, and raise awareness of the resilience, determination and ingenuity of refugees. Access to gardens and green space is not just a ‘nice to have’; it is a fundamental human requirement – to grow food and to seek solace in cultivating a patch of ground. 

Our garden, designed by Tom Massey, was awarded an RHS Silver-Gilt Medal and attracted incredible media attention, bringing our work to the thousands of visitors and millions of people who saw the garden on TV and other media. 

Who runs Lemon Tree Trust and where are they based? 

Lemon Tree Trust activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are coordinated by our team based in Erbil and Domiz 1 camp. Operations, communications and marketing for the organisation are managed by our UK team. While the Ridgecrest Community Garden in Dallas, USA, is managed by Lanka Basnet. 

  • KRI team: Aveen Ibrahem, Rody Sher, Hamid Abdullah
  • UK team: Jennie Spears, James Spears, Ali Hadley
  • USA team: Lanka Basnet

What is it like to live in a refugee or IDP camp? 

Refugee and IDP camps are not as temporary as their name suggests – many exist for decades. People usually live in camps for years and life goes on despite the hardship people face and the distance they have often had to put between their homeland and the safety of their family. The camps we operate in are managed by the Kurdistan Regional Government with support from UNHCR and other national and international NGOs. Read about what life is like for people living in Domiz 1 camp.

How gardening helps displaced people  

How do gardens make a significant difference to refugee communities? 

We are committed to improving the biodiversity and environment of the camps in which we work. ‘Urban greening’ within refugee and IDP camps is essential for providing shade, improving the soil and has wider environmental benefits.   

Research and evaluation of our work have shown the importance of having both the space a garden offers to sit and think or to relax in nature, and the meaningful activity and normalcy that gardening provides. 

What evidence is there that gardening improves mental health and wellbeing? 

We have seen first-hand, through our work with refugee and IDP communities, that gardening addresses issues of isolation, mental health and wellbeing. For many, simply having a small patch of garden around them, cultivated from the harshest conditions, is a significant source of solace and a connection with their previous life. 

The importance of gardening as a mental health activity is well documented by many academics. In the International Handbook of Occupational Therapy Interventions, Tania Wiseman and Gaynor Sadlo report the many physical benefits of outdoor exercise, the community benefits of doing things together, the importance of green spaces in reducing stress and increasing resilience, and the value of activity and occupational therapy in trauma recovery. 

In The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Sue Stuart-Smith shares how being in nature can radically transform our health, wellbeing and confidence. She presents scientific findings, insights and stories from asylum seekers, veterans, inner-city young people and other groups on how nature has helped with trauma, stress, depression and other health issues. 

Are gardeners mainly men or women? 

In the communities we work with in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, farmers and those interested in large-scale commercial growing are mainly men. However, there are almost equal numbers of men and women developing home gardens and entering our annual garde competitions. In many families, it is a joint activity, with partners, siblings and children all contributing. 

What do people like to grow?  

What people grow is influenced by culture, environment and plant and seed availability. Most people grow a mixture of trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables, but Syrians, in particular, tell us that they love flowers. 

  • Favourite edibles include: courgette, broad beans, salad crops, radish, chard, tomatoes, sweetcorn, carrots, leafy herbs (parsley, coriander, etc), rocket. 
  • Favourite ornamentals include: snapdragons, violas, petunias, sunflowers, zinnias, lavender, geraniums, hollyhocks, mint, rosemary and thyme. 

Biodiversity in camp environments requires improvement and so we encourage people to grow plants for pollinators. birds and other key species.

Supporting Lemon Tree Trust 

Is Lemon Tree Trust a charity? 

In the UK, Lemon Tree Trust is a restricted fund under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund, registered charity 1099682. It is also a UK-registered Community Interest Company (CIC) number 10981579. 

In the USA, all contributions to the Lemon Tree Trust Fund will be received, receipted and under control of Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation. 

Donations to Lemon Tree Trust are handled by the above charitable entities in a tax efficient manner.  

How does my donation make a difference? 

Lemon Tree Trust’s core costs are covered by the founders, so 100% voluntary donations are spent in the field on projects that directly benefit communities of people who have been forcibly displaced. 

  • £1 / $1 gives a family three packets of vegetable seeds  
  • £5 / $5 provides a family with a basket of nutritious produce harvested from a Lemon Tree Trust community garden 
  • £20 / $ 20 gives a family a lemon tree providing shade and fruit 
  • £100 / $100 provides 4 schools with a set of Lenny Lemon activity sheets and seeds to begin growing at school 
  • £1,000 / $1,000 purchases a new polytunnel for one of our community gardens 
  • £10,000 / $10,000 supports the creation of a new community garden 
  • £50,000 / $50,000 supports gardening projects in new communities, including projects for unaccompanied children in Greece and Northern France 
  • £100,000 / $100,000 enables Lemon Tree Trust to build a new community garden hub in a camp, supporting the breadth of our work to restore dignity, improve environments and empower women 

Make a donation

Can I volunteer for Lemon Tree Trust?  

We are regularly contacted by people around the world offering their time and asking how they can support our activities. We appreciate everyone’s support and kindness – together we are building a gardener to gardener network – however, we are a small team and are not always able to support formal or informal volunteering projects. Find out about some of the ways you can support our work or get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].  

 

At this time of year when the weather is turning colder in refugee and IDP (internally displaced people) camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, our gardening activities are more important than ever to bring people together and give them hope for their futures. That’s why, this Christmas, we have launched a special appeal, where … Continued

For the last few winters, the road linking the four sections of the Azadi Community Garden in Domiz 1 camp has become extremely waterlogged. Heavy winter rains often wash away the top layer, leaving deep ruts in both sides and with each heavy rainfall, the roads become fast flowing streams and in the case of … Continued

We’ve set up a mini library in our lounge area of the Azadi Community Garden in Domiz 1 camp. It’s a small way we can help our children to grow and flourish.  Right now we only have a few books in our cabinet but we will continue to add to our small collection so that … Continued