During our recent period of lockdown, I think we can all admit to times of feeling anxious and worried by the array of new challenges we faced and expectations of ‘carrying on as normal’ whilst our lives were anything but.
In fact, a recent article from the Guardian shows that the psychological toll from Covid-19 has had far reaching effects on mental health in many ways. Stretching from anxiety about job insecurity, to loneliness, bereavement grief and relationship breakdowns.
This has shone a light on how fragile the balance between mental health and well-being can be and the importance of taking care not just of our physical health.
For many of us, the ability to escape the four walls of our homes to the green spaces of our gardens, local parks and countryside has played a huge part in helping to deal with the pressure of lockdown.
A recent survey of 2000 people commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) found that 7 out of 10 of us consider having a garden has helped our mental health during lockdown. Simple acts of weeding, mowing and watering were cited as having a positive impact. And 60% of respondents also felt the benefit to their physical health from gardening.
The health benefits of gardening
But it is not just during times of stress that gardening benefits us. Whether recuperating from illness, as therapy for dementia or managing weight, numerous studies have shown that gardening is good for both mind and body.
For our minds
As soon as we step into nature we can feel ourselves relax. Our pace of life slows and our focus shifts. All our senses are engaged as we notice the colour, the scents, the sounds, and the feel of the wildlife around us. This break from our daily routines gives our bodies and minds that vital time to relax, rest and recharge.
In Japan, the healing benefits of green spaces are so revered they have given the act of immersing yourself in nature a name. “Shinrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” is the practice of spending time in forested areas for the purpose of enhancing health, wellness, and happiness.
For our bodies
While the benefits to mental health are clear, the physical act of gardening has much the same effect as exercising at the gym (and it is cheaper!).
Carrying out everyday gardening chores you are burning calories, building muscle, improving mobility and fitness levels.
- Heavy garden work (landscaping, moving rocks, hauling dirt, digging): 400-600 calories per hour.
- Raking and bagging leaves: 350-450 calories per hour.
- Gardening: pulling weeds, planting flowers, etc.: 200-400 calories per hour.
- Mowing the lawn: 250-350 calories per hour.
As well as burning calories, the physical exercise involved with gardening causes the body to release its natural feel-good hormones serotonin and endorphin. This lifts our mood and helps promote mental wellbeing.
As Kathryn Rossiter, CEO of Thrive says:
“Tending plants can literally give people a reason to get out of bed in the morning and the nurturing aspect of gardening is very important as it give people hope, purpose and a sense of achievement which is really important for mental health.
Gardening can build up your muscle strength, increase stamina, improve balance, mobility and ultimately people’s confidence.
At Thrive we believe that just 30 minutes spent outside each day is good for you, helping to build up strength and stamina, relax your muscles, help movement and balance, keep your heart healthy and use up calories.”
In fact, some GP’s are so convinced of the benefits of gardening they’re even starting to write prescriptions for it. So, it is time to get gardening – doctors’ orders!
You don’t need a back garden the size of Versailles to get started. A courtyard, a balcony or even a window ledge can allow you to introduce some green to your home.
If you are lucky enough to have an established garden you’ve probably already got your hands full with planting, weeding, digging, pruning, watering and mowing.
But here are a few ideas for some other gardening tasks or projects you could undertake.
For those taking their first steps into the world of horticulture then we’ve a few ideas that will help get you going.
No garden, no problem
In the Thames Valley we are blessed with a plethora of gardens and open spaces that are open to the public to visit and enjoy. Within easy reach you will find some of the country’s best beauty spots.
The Royal Horticultural Society
The National Trust has several nearby properties with grounds and gardens that are open to explore.
Greys Court https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/greys-court
As well as grand houses and formal gardens the National Trust also opens many of the parks they own.
Hindhead Commons and the Devils Punch Bowl https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hindhead-commons-and-the-devils-punch-bowl
The Chilterns https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chilterns-countryside
Parks and Gardens
Windsor Great Park (home to the Valley Gardens, Virginia Waters and Savill Garden) http://www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en
The National Garden Scheme
The National Garden Scheme gives visitors unique access to over 3,700 exceptional private gardens in England and Wales, to raise money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake.
Find your local gardens at https://ngs.org.uk/
Get your hands dirty
Or if you’d rather get stuck into the practical side of gardening, you could consider taking on your own allotment or volunteering with a local charity.
These options are particularly good for those who found it difficult to deal with the isolation during lockdown. Gardening with others brings a sense of belonging and being part of something together. You will also pick up lots of tips and support from those who are part of your new community.
Allotments are popular so you may need to join a waiting list. But if you are keen to get started, you could always ask around at your local allotment to see if any holders need a hand. Not only will most jump at the chance to have someone help with the weeding and double digging, you will learn loads from those who have been gardening for years. You will also find that they are more than generous not just with their advice but with sharing seeds, plants, tools and gluts of fruit and veg.
Windsor allotment and home gardens association https://www.wahga.org.uk/
Maidenhead allotments https://www3.rbwm.gov.uk/info/200846/allotments/90/allotments_in_maidenhead
Thrive is a gardening for health charity with a venue in Reading. They offer several courses, training and workshops that use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)
These volunteers give their time, skills and enthusiasm, to protect and care for their local parks, woods and other green spaces.
The Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust plant, protect and restore woods and trees to protect ecosystems, create wildlife havens, combat climate change and build a greener future.