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Gardening as therapy

Saturday, October 15, 2016 4:45
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Latest post from MARKSVEGPLOT – a blog about food and gardening in England”

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!

To read more articles like this, on Gardening and Gastronomy, please visit * *


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