To help us through these difficult times, I’ve asked psychotherapist Dorothy Arnott – an avid gardener – to share her insights on the benefits of gardening for health and wellbeing.
During this challenging time, the earth has asked us to stand still, and through stillness, we often learn the most valuable lessons about ourselves. I believe I’m someone who likes to achieve and be productive, and I’m always working towards a goal. But current circumstances have taught me to slow down, observe more and really look at nature. A horse in a field lives in the moment, enjoying the sunshine, eating grass and living a simple life.
What if we took more time to learn from animals and from nature to live more simply and enjoy simpler pleasures? I’m guilty of being from a “want” generation – another bag, a new dress, a bigger house. But the lockdown has certainly taught me that I really don’t need any of that. Because I have realised I’m equally happy pottering around my house and garden. All I actually need is fresh food and comfy clothes!
Gardening for Health and Wellbeing
One way I’ve been passing the time is listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos from spiritual gurus to get their take on things. One coach encouraged everyone to “connect with the Earth” which I thought was a really interesting idea. We’ve been taking from the Earth, her nourishment and her beauty without much regard for too long. Now it’s time to look after our planet. Even the smallest changes – recycling more, buying less, and growing more of our own food and becoming more self-sufficient – can surely make a big difference. Caring for the Earth also helps us to live in the moment, as well as calming our anxiety and enjoying simple beauty. Just a few reasons why gardening is good for health and wellbeing, and the advantages of spending time with nature.
Of course, every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. During the lockdown, many of us have rediscovered the amazing therapeutic advantages of nature on our health and well-being. Whether it’s using our daily outdoor exercise time to take a stroll along the beach, a bike ride, or a jog around the local park. As well as spending more time in our gardens, or tending to houseplants and window boxes. Perhaps we are intuitively seeking out the healing power of nature.
So, it’s time to grab a trowel, fill up your watering can and get down and dirty! Let’s talk about the advantages of nature and gardening for health and wellbeing!
Why gardening is good for us
“Gardening is one of the world’s oldest healing arts.” Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden
“There’s a real ‘buzz’ about gardening and the health and well-being benefits of just “being” in the great outdoors at the moment. Gardeners have known about the health-giving aspects of spending time in the natural world for millennia, but it has taken the COVID19 restrictions to bring us all to our senses!
So, what makes gardening so powerfully therapeutic?
How can we benefit from it even if we have no outdoor space?
And can gardening help us to cope with the challenges of social isolation?
Read on to find out how attending to plants and weeding your garden can restore a sense of calm, as well as help us reconnect to nature. And also how gardening is good for our health and wellbeing.
Gardens are our sanctuaries
“The idea of gardens as sanctuaries – places of calm and safety – is embedded in many cultures throughout the world. Throughout history, gardens have been a point of unity and connection during times of global fear and turmoil. Likewise, the perfection and harmony of the biblical Garden of Eden and the Islamic paradise gardens are both examples of sanctuary gardens.
And now many of us have our own gardens, allotments, and even window boxes or the local park all of which perform a similar function. We can certainly garden almost anywhere, indoors as well as outdoors. And gardening can definitely help our health and wellbeing.
Most of us have a few house plants, now could be the time to pay them some extra attention, moving them around to create an indoor sanctuary. A place where we can sit and relax surrounded by the healing power of the greenery. Not only that, but plants such as Peace Lilies also help provide cleaner and clearer air. Read how plants can detox your home here.
In our gardens, whatever size they may be, we can similarly create a sanctuary, a space of calm, safety and contemplation. For a busy family garden, this might be a small area that is not colonised by footballs or toys! And in a larger garden, find a low maintenance spot that won’t remind you of all the work which needs to be done. A relatively secluded spot with somewhere comfortable to sit. As well as fragrant plants and perhaps a water feature – ideal for moments of rest, reflection or recuperation.”
Mindfulness in the garden
“Look at the flowers- for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are. “ Osho (1931- 1990)
“ When we forget about work, slow down and observe our natural surroundings, we are already entering a more mindful state. Our heart rate and blood pressure begin to lower, and paying attention to our breathing in fresh garden air or focusing on a particular flower, shrub or tree for just a few minutes can be remarkably grounding and restorative.
However, this is not the only aspect of gardening which can be approached mindfully. Weeding, cutting the grass and propagating cuttings are all tasks that particularly lend themselves to being in a ‘flow’ moment. By attending to the “here and now” helps put worries or concerns aside.
Mindful walking, preferably with bare feet on grass so that we are fully connected to the earth, is also recognised by many to be grounding and beneficial to our wellbeing.“
Connecting to the natural world
“To be part of and connected to the natural world is perhaps the greatest joy of gardening – and also one of the greatest challenges. Being surrounded by birds nesting, hedgehogs rustling, bees bumbling and insects pollinating is delightful. On the other hand, slugs, snails, caterpillars, rabbits, badgers, and deer can be less welcome! How we manage our relationships with all of these creatures can be demanding. But it can also help us to consider and reflect upon our role and responsibilities as part of the world’s ecosystem.
Connection with the natural world definitely brings many benefits, whereas disconnection with nature results in higher rates of physical and mental illness, attention difficulties, and diminished use of senses. Not a recommended way to live our lives. Find out more about Nature Deficit Disorder from Richard Louv.
Gardening is also a very good way to connect with other people. Gardeners share a passion and a language associated with an appreciation for the earth, plants, and wildlife. Not only that, but they also share a commitment to nurturing – and they love to encourage others to join them!”
Bringing out our (self) nurturing instincts
‘Let nature be your teacher.’ William Wordsworth
“Nurturing is undoubtedly integral to gardening. As children, most of us dabbled in growing mustard and cress on damp kitchen roll or runner beans in a pot. This taught us basic biology, gave us an idea about where our food comes from and most importantly, how to look after and nurture seedlings. We can continue to learn lessons about self-care and nurturing from our gardening experiences. Different plants have a different basic need for water, light, soil, and space to thrive, whereas some plants need support stakes while others benefit from hard pruning.
This is similar to our individual needs for the ‘right’ conditions in which to thrive, our varying needs for support and for appreciating when we have ‘overdone it’ and need rest and/or extra nutritious food. In tending for our gardens, we are not only nurturing our plants, but we have an opportunity to remind ourselves of our own self-care needs.
It is especially important to consider what sort of gardening suits us and our circumstances best.
If we prefer an orderly garden or have physical limitations, taking on a large untamed garden or allotment plot is obviously not wise. Nurturing ourselves, accepting our limitations with grace and the abundance of the garden with gratitude are all key lessons that can be learned. “
How gardening helps us grow
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. “ Rachel Carson
“A garden grows people as well as plants. Whilst mindfulness can help us to move to greater acceptance of ourselves, gardening can help us to accept those things we cannot control. Most gardeners are unquestionably philosophical, we have to be. We cannot control the weather, we cannot grow all the plants we would like to because the soil or the situation of our garden is not ‘right’ for all plants.
As we practice acceptance of weather-related threats to our gardens, such as, late frosts, summer droughts, and unexpected high winds and the losses which are experienced, it can help us gain perspective and resilience in the face of ups, downs, and losses in other areas of our lives.
Small spaces and limited resources can lead to us becoming creative as gardeners, another ‘lesson for life.’ For example, a dying plum tree can become a support for a fragrant, vigorous rose or a spectacular clematis. Loss can lead to something new of beauty and value, a reminder of the benefits of acceptance and renewal in our own lives. “
Expanding our experience of abundance, generosity and vitality
“On my bathroom windowsill, I have two varieties of tomatoes, pot basil, coriander, and dill seedlings – an abundance of seedlings! The herbs could remain there, the tomatoes will be potted on into an outdoor space and the extra plants given to friends, family, and neighbours. At harvest time, vegetables can be preserved and stored as well as being shared with others.
Bunches of flowers freshly picked from friend’s gardens or allotments are always welcome, as are bunches of seasonal hedgerow plants. Nature is abundant, full of vitality and this can help us all to connect with our sense of abundance. Which without a doubt, is life-enhancing and encourages generosity.
Gardeners are generous with advice, cuttings and seedlings, produce and more advice! They are clearly passionate, seeing potential where others might see mud and muck, as well as being philosophical about loss and regeneration. In fact, research suggests they are physically and mentally healthier than their non-gardening peers.
Gardening for health and wellbeing
Even if we don’t have outside space, we can all unquestionably benefit from windowsill or window box gardening.
And in these strange days of restricted movement, there are opportunities to enjoy gardening online with updates from Sarah Raven at her garden in Perch Hill, Monty Don at Longmeadow on Gardener’s World, and various re-runs of garden make-overs and garden-related films. Maybe you have a copy of The Secret Garden stashed away!
There is also a wealth of gardening inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram and via interior and gardening magazines and their websites. And you can even take virtual tours of famous gardens!
One of my favourites is Monet’s Garden at Giverny which you can find online at House Beautiful here.
“The lesson l have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” Gertrude Jekyll ( Garden Designer)
Advantages of nature
“Lastly, gardening, along with being outside in nature and observing our surroundings mindfully, connects us to a sense of wonder. The first snowdrops emerging from frozen ground, and the delicacy of apple blossom and its amazing floral colour palette. Or the stupendous growth of squashes and pumpkins from such small seeds.
There is always something to be overawed by, and grateful for when the year is over, as plans for the next year emerge like tiny green shoots, symbols of hope and rebirth, something to celebrate.”
Dorothy Arnott is the daughter and granddaughter of gardeners, farmers, and teachers. She loves to share her passion for working with nature with others. As a therapist and counsellor, Dorothy recognises that time spent outdoors is essential to our mental health and wellbeing and she offers walking and talking therapy in nature, in part, to encourage this connection or attachment with the natural world around us.
For further information, contact her here.
|Natalie Shirlaw is passionate about healthy living and writes posts about wellbeing. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to pin it or share it!|