Did you know that gardening can benefit your mental health? Here’s how…
When you think of self-care, does an image of a face mask and a soak in the tub come to mind? It turns out that there are other ways to get some me-time that don’t involve skincare or bubble baths – in fact, getting outside in your garden could be the perfect place to for a little TLC this year, as David Domoney explains. You may be thinking that you’re not green-fingered at all and that gardening is not for you, but we’re here to show you that there are things even the most amateur of gardeners can do to benefit their mental health and reap the rewards of an appealing outdoor space, too. Happy growing!
Reasons to up the ante
It’s official, gardening is good for you. There are many ways that gardening can help our health. It boosts mental health by engaging us in an activity where there are visible rewards and milestones, it encourages time outside with nature – which is proven to reduce stress – and provides a channel for social activity. As well as this, it’s good for us physically, too. Not only does gardening support an active lifestyle, it can grant us access to healthy homegrown produce. There are a whole host of health benefits to be gained from falling headfirst into gardening this year. Giving back to Mother Nature, to your community, or to your family home through gardening feels great, but this extends to your local wildlife population, too. From the microbes in the soil to the bees and birds, your garden plays a part in supporting the wider ecosystem and it’s really gratifying to feel like you’re contributing towards something much bigger than you. Gardening can be either a solitary pastime or a social one, so it’s a great backdrop to spending quality time with loved ones. Set your little ones a goal in the garden and it will spark their enthusiasm to get stuck in. A joint task is also the perfect platform to open up communication as well. It’s why therapeutic horticulture is so effective and now prescribed on the NHS.
Ways to make it stick
According to research, you’re more likely to make a resolution stick if you make it a positive change. For example, say “get out in the garden more” instead of “watch TV less”. It’s also important to set yourself an achievable target. Try to take incremental steps towards a longer-term goal, rather than expecting to become a virtuoso overnight. To this end, the first few steps of creating a wildlife-friendly space might be the simple act of putting up some bird boxes. Take the time to learn the skills you need to succeed first and, if in doubt, visit a local garden centre or fantastic garden to spark some inspiration. Though there are upfront costs involved with starting out, there are many ways you can save money and still get gardening. Get involved with a local or nation-wide peer to peer lending site or app – these connect owners of tools with those in need of them. Edinburgh even has a tool library where, instead of books, a library card will get members access to machinery and tools. Once you’re up and running you may find yourself with a surplus. Swap your yields with a neighbour in need and get something you need in return… a bag of crumbly compost, or more seeds perhaps? Whatever your motivation for spending some more one-on-one time with Mother Nature, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, grab your spade and get stuck in.
Ideas to get you going
Whether you’re an old hat at horticulture or as green as they come, here are some ideas to begin building your empire:
Most gardeners adept at grow-your-own are well-versed in the benefits of compost, but why not step up your game; hot composters really speed the process and can boost turnover, or try wormeries as a way to compost in compact spaces. Else, stacking wormeries can produce liquid feed from your food waste, so there are lots of ways to keep composting at the top of your agenda. If you’re dipping your toe in for the first time, you can start quite small – with just a portable compost bin and garden waste.
Find more resources on getting started at daviddomoney.com
Wildlife works for you
On urban allotments, in particular, you’ll find habitats and wildlife corridors which are vital for supporting local wildlife. In turn, these go towards championing abundant growing conditions. Get to know the creatures that visit your plot. This will help to show you gaps in your gardening gambit. For instance, if you know that hedgehogs are hanging around, you can bet they’re taking control of some of the slug and snail populations for you. Equally, ladybirds inhabitants help with some aphid populations. Once you know what’s what, you can start to encourage the creatures required to eradicate pests. Pop in hedgehog homes, superglue pine cones together for ladybirds, or add bug hotels made from stacked pallets.
Break new ground
The great thing about gardening is that you can set yourself aspirations appropriate for your experience level quite easily and you never run out of new challenges to try when it comes to growing your own. For the beginner, try your hand at ‘chitting’ potatoes – this is where you start tubers off inside so that they’re ready to plant or start a herb garden for seasoning your home cooking. For more avid green fingers, sow chillies in seed trays, force rhubarb, or why not plant some new varieties of bare-root fruit trees?
There’s no better feeling than sharing your passion with loved ones. Planting a tree is something that spans generations because they’re so long-living. Plus, get your kids involved with the planting ceremony and it hands you an opportunity to spend time with them and open them up to the wonderful world of nature – win-win!
The great indoors
Don’t have a garden? Don’t worry, you can still gain the benefits of plants even if you don’t have any outside space.
Embrace house plants
Adding some greenery is a fun, inexpensive way of brightening up your home and gaining the benefits of plants at the same time. Lots of them have air-purifying qualities, meaning that they improve their surrounding environments and improve the air you breathe. As well as that, plants have been shown to reduce stress and boost cognitive function. Not very greenfingered? Choose a hardy plant, such as a mother-in-law’s tongue, a spider plant, aloe vera or a peace lily – these are all particularly good at cleaning the air, too.
Try flower arranging
Treat yourself to a beautiful bouquet and get busy! Not only will you create a stunning display, but it’s also a great way to relax that’s both simple, and rewarding. “Taking a few moments to yourself is important, and your blooms of choice can also help,” say the experts at Interflora (interflora.co.uk). “Calming blue and purple stems can alleviate stress and anxiety and promote creativity. Lilac roses, purple freesia and purple lisianthus are all colours which can help with depression, calming the mind and soothing mental illness and nervous disorders. Meanwhile, lavender is known for reducing anxiety and stress, and the calming eucalyptus stimulates the immune system and clarifies the mind.”
Make use of your windowsills
Just because you don’t have a vegetable patch doesn’t mean you can’t grow them anyway! You can use your windowsills – choose ones that get plenty of sun and don’t be too ambitious, as plants need space to grow. Try planting some basil, salad leaves, chillies or cherry tomatoes – and if you have got room, be a little more adventurous and try veg such as beans and even carrots! You’ll find lots of ideas online, so don’t be afraid to have a go and see what works for you.