Gardening for Wellbeing
Gardening and plants have had a profound affect on people’s mental health and happiness, particularly over lockdown our gardens have become a sanctuary; a source of relaxation and escape.
Gardening can reduce negative emotions, boost energy, recharge our brains and promote joy. We can all appreciate the importance of getting outside and after spending time in our gardens we feel uplifted. Having a close relationship with the soil, plants, trees and wildlife allows us to reconnect with nature.
About seven years ago my name came up on a local allotment and this proved to be life changing. The allotment became my sanctuary and a respite from daily stresses.
I had been going through a tough couple of years after leaving my ‘job for life.’ I had lost direction and didn’t know what my future held. But going to the allotment each day gave me a purpose, a goal and this led to the revelation that I wanted to spend my days working with plants. One of the best decisions I ever made!
Gardening amalgamates strength, flexibility, physical endurance and balance and after a few hours digging, bending, stretching, weeding and raking both our mind and body have had a workout. The physical exertion of gardening releases endomorphs in the brain and gives us a buzz of positivity.
But there is also another reason why we can feel happy gardening. Soil contains the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae, this natural antidepressant triggers the release of mood enhancing serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters make you feel alert and regulate your mood. Serotonin is linked with happiness and dopamine with feelings of reward so the simple act of gardening naturally promotes positive feelings.
So how we can use our gardens in different ways to help us appreciate nature? There are many therapeutic free activities we can do to improve our wellbeing.
Get outside. Natural light tops up vitamin D and regulates melatonin levels, which helps you sleep.
Sow seeds, nurture seedlings and propagate perennials and houseplants. These mindful relaxing tasks require focus and growing new plants will bring satisfaction.
Plant up pots of bulbs in autumn. You are literally planting hope and giving yourself something to look forward to with the anticipation of what will emerge in spring.
Take time to study wildlife in your garden. Get down to plant level and see how many mini beasts you can spot. It is always incredible to discover all the life going on right under our noses and see what a vital part they play in the garden ecosystem. Get your camera out and take photos from all angles, look skyward from the ground or elevate yourself for an aerial perspective.
As we all rush around our busy lives we must remind ourselves to take note of nature, the change of seasons, the cycle of life and not become plant blind, ignoring what is in front of us just because it seems routine. Study the patterns, textures and colours in leaves and flowers. Nature truly is amazing!
Keeping a visual log of garden plants through photos can be a very useful reference or if you are feeling creative grab a sketch book and get drawing or paint your favourite plants.
Visit gardens. Have a relaxing day out walking round local gardens or travel further a field for an adventure. A change of scenery can feel liberating and provide inspiration.
Gardening alone is a relaxing respite providing time to think and contemplate life but likewise gardening with friends and family can be a tremendous tonic! It’s a great way to discuss ideas or problems in a safe neutral environment whilst also getting a useful job done and feel productive.
Spend as much time as you can outside surrounded by trees. Trees emit ‘phytoncide’ wood essential oils which naturally enhance mood. Try ‘Forest bathing.’ Sit quietly in a wood or park, away from tech and take time to breathe. Use all your senses to connect with nature and the environment around you, be present in the moment rather than distracted by a ‘to do’ list and you will lower cortisol stress levels and blood pressure, improve memory and concentration.
There has been a growing understanding of the benefits of gardening, particularly over the last few years and it has become a recognised activity to help with mental health and can now even be prescribed as a ‘green therapy,’ a ‘green prescription’ by doctors to encourage people to spend a couple of hours a week in nature to help reduce anxiety, depression and social isolation.
Locate your nearest community garden or garden project. Volunteering gives an immense sense of achievement and belonging.
Nature is amazing. Just remember to take time to smell the roses!
Debi is a freelance writer for Garden News magazine and Richard Jackson Garden as well as running her own garden maintenance and design business in the South West. She is passionate about the benefits of gardening and this year introduces her first garden talk ‘Gardening for Wellbeing.’
Find Debi on Twitter and Instagram @DHgardening and at www.debihollandgardening.com