Saturday, 15 October 2016

Gardening as therapy

This past week has been Mental Health Week, apparently (along with various other types of week, such as National Curry Week), and I have seen several people writing about the merits of gardening as a therapy. This is something I have often thought about, and I think it's true. Why is this?


For a lot of people, being outside (often in cold wet conditions), getting mucky and digging around in soil and compost, potentially up to your knees in weeds and brambles might not seem very appealing. However, based on my own experience, I know it can be. When you're out in the garden it is easy to forget about what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow, and just concentrate on the job in front of you - "Have I pruned that tree correctly? Shall I dig up some Parsnips? Should I cover those plants with fleece?" etc, etc. Focussing on the plants you are nurturing can help you to put aside the stresses of life and give you a more positive outlook. What could be more rewarding than seeing a tiny seed grow into a big plant (especially if it's one that you can eat)? I have been growing veg for over 30 years and yet the sense of achievement never diminishes. "I grew that!" is a very satisfying feeling. It has a lot in common with the discipline of Project Management: when your project concludes, and everything works out OK, you know that your planning and hard work has paid off.


Another raised bed project finished!


I think I can honestly say that our diet is well-balanced and full of good things, but for someone whose isn't I think starting a veg-plot or taking on an allotment could be a real revelation. Perhaps for the first time ever being able to eat food that no-one else has touched (still less, adulterated), and knowing with confidence where it has come from and how it was grown? And do you know, sometimes the fact that growing your veg has involved some hard graft and perseverance in the face of adverse weather, potentially poor soil and plagues of pests and diseases can also be a cause for celebration. Gardening successfully is not easy, and there are indeed lots of problems to be overcome, but success brings with it pride in one's achievements. It's like when you are at work and you just know you have done a good job on some task or other: even if your customer takes you for granted and your boss doesn't give you that pat on the back you deserve, you just know - and it makes you feel good!


A typical mid-Summer harvest basket


Since I became a gardener I have become a lot more aware of natural phenomena (I study the weather very closely sometimes!); I have developed a much greater interest in learning about fungi; I watch and enjoy the presence of birds, beetles, squirrels and bats. I understand the cycle of the seasons; I understand the interaction of soil, water and nutrients. I could go on, but I think you will have seen my point by now - gardeners appreciate things that non-gardeners often ignore, or even don't recognise. Surely this is a yet another contributory factor in a person's well-being.


A pollen-covered bumble bee drinks nectar from an Echinacea flower


The physical aspects of gardening should not be underestimated either, nor the beneficial exercise you can get from it. Even in a small garden like mine there is a lot of bending and stretching, lifting, carrying, pulling, digging, and raking to be done. Just recently I injured my arm by lifting a container that was too heavy, and it has made me realise how often I do things like that (Lifting things, I mean, not injuring myself). Who needs to go to the gym? The gym is indoors too, and I'm a great believer in the benefits of breathing fresh air!


Building a raised bed, helped by granddaughter Lara


Gardening won't make you rich in the monetary sense. It takes a lot of ground and a lot of time and effort to be self-sufficient in vegetables, while the cost of gardening tools, compost, plants, seeds etc can soon add up, but it can easily make you rich in other ways - fitter, calmer, more in harmony with the Natural World, and at peace with yourself.


P.S. (for UK people) - Also a good antidote to Brexit stress!



17 comments:

  1. Often called the Green Gym! I know from experience that when I am in the garden I don;t think of the things that worry or trouble me. I am sure my eye problem isn;t as bad either. Maybe this is because I don't think about it!
    I really do think councils should take the beneficial effects in mind when allocating allotment plots and also setting rents. Allotment rents are rising to a level where they will be too expensive for some. I think it;s there way of reducing demand so they don't have to worry about waiting lists. The trouble is that they only think of their budget not the fact that stress on NHS services could be reduced. The problem of fragmentation

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  2. I've been reading about healing gardens lately for people in convalescence. In addition to all the benefits you listed above, these people get them even without touching the dirt. They get benefits from just listening to, touching, smelling and tasting the garden. Now I'm off to my early morning stroll doing all of the things listed above. What a great way to start the day!

    Sue: Green Gym. Great term.

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  3. I can relate to all that too. The kind of wildlife that one sees even in a small gardening space like mine is amazing. Lovely pictures as usual...love the bee on the Echinacea and your granddaughter helping you in the garden.:)

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  4. I agree with all you say in this post. I think it is starting to be noted now that gardening can certainly help with mental health problems, there's quite a few gardening projects being set up to help provide therapy. As you rightly say though, the health benefits of gardening goes way beyond this, the exercise you can get from it goes further than any gym can and it can be a social hobby too if you're gardening on an allotment, great for people who may live alone. Your new raised beds are looking fabulous.

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  5. Absolutely love this post. There's something about gardening that makes us connected with the world and forget the little problems because we realise there's more to this life than just us. I love watching the critters crawl and the seeds grow and hearing the birds chirp, and gardening has been a god send for me as a long time sufferer of anxiety. So good to know others feel this way, and you've worded it so well.

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  6. I think I come from a long, un-interupted line of not necessarily "gardeners" but "people who had to grow their own food" so it comes naturally to me. As I'm always telling my husband, "what else are we supposed to do outside? Sit?"
    And then there are always the benefits of what I like to call "garden yoga" as I reach and stretch and try not to sit on a seedling.

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  7. A terrific post! I have shared it with quite a few of my gardening friends.
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I have been a reader of your blogspot for quite sometime and look forward to your posts every morning.

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    1. Now that's what I like to hear! Glad you enjoy the blog.

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  8. I have to say that I agree completely with the sentiments in this post... for The Viking particularly gardening is his calm place. It brings him home after a stressful week. He would be outdoors more than ever if we had milder winters. Lovely post x

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  9. What a lovely picture of you and Lara, Mark.
    We can all relate to your post and the benefits of exercise, mental composure and happiness.
    Don't forget also the benefits to our health of sunshine - directly and as a source of vitamin d and the garden air as perhaps a source of natural chemicals and if in the garden from childhood healthy allergic responses. And I think you mention your lovely vegetables!

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  10. I agree, Mark. I find gardening to be one of the few completely absorbing things I can do to take my mind off other worries. When I'm in the garden, I'm focussed on that and nothing else matters.

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  11. It always makes me feel good being out in the garden! I first came across gardening for mental health when working in the NHS in the 80's. It is good despite so many cut backs that we are still fortunate around here to have a few of these schemes still running. Sarah x

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  12. Mark, I have to say that your blog is my favorite one. I'm Greek and lived in London for 5 years for Bachelors and Masters, long time ago though. Since the crisis started here in Greece I found my medicine in gardening. The best way of freeing your mind and spirit. Nowadays I had to slow down because of back problems. Can't wait to get back to mud though. All kinds of radicchio's and endives are my favorite veggies. I like the picture with Lara. Families come closer. My younger daughter plants with me.
    Keep up the good work, you've got a lot of fans out there!!! Alexios

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    1. Hi Alexios; Thank you for your kind words. You talk of the crisis in Greece, but the way Brexit is going, I think a lot of people here in the UK will soon take to growing their own veg because they won't be able to afford to buy any! :)

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    2. Hello again Mark. I hope UK will remain in Europe. I believe sometimes people take decisions based on their sentiments. However, growing your own veg is more expensive than buying, at least here that is. Especially if you grow organic. By the way, I like your new cold frame. Good planting if I may say!!!

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    3. Yes, I think the UK should remain in Europe too, but we may have gone too far now to turn back! The decision was made by ill-informed people, for all the wrong reasons. You are lucky if you have access to cheap vegetables. The ones in our shops are often very expensive (and not very fresh either). The cold-frame is going to be good for my chillis I think!

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