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National Gardening Week - can gardening improve our mental health?

Sam_Alumni
Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger
It is National Gardening Week this week and it got me thinking about the benefits of gardening and how big a part of my life it has become.

I'll be honest, I never thought of myself as a gardener.  I spent a lot of time with my grandma as a child and she had a wonderful garden where I would sit and watch her work, though I was probably more of a hindrance than help as I just remember eating all the peas, strawberries and tomatoes straight from the plants.

I started growing my own veg when I had my own children, I always wanted them to know where food comes from! I remember asking my son's friends where he thought chips came from and he said "the freezer!" We didnt grow much but it was nice, outdoor family time when they were little and it helped them to have a better understanding of food.

I now have an allotment and I do it for myself.  I love being out there in the quiet, working hard and then sitting back and enjoying the views.  I have struggled with anxiety since having lots of surgeries and dealing with chronic illness and used to find myself really overwhelmed and panicky with the world.  I spoke to my hospital team and they suggested I found something to do that made me relaxed and happy, a hobby that took my mind away from the illness and operations I was facing.


My allotment is my sanctuary, no matter how bad my day, no matter how stressed or bothered I am, a couple of hours up there makes it all drift away and I feel a huge sense of relief, calm and happiness.  There are times when I am not physically able to do the hard work, so I have a little chair in my greenhouse so I can pot plants and sew seeds and I have a big cushion that I use to sit on the ground and plant.  It is really important to me that I don't ruin my nice times in the allotment by putting pressure on myself about it and turning it into a chore, so if I can't dig the potatoes in one week, I let it slide or ask for some help! (It's amazing what the gift of a bottle of beer can get my husband to do!) 

Being outdoors in underrated, just sitting in the sunshine (or more likely cloud!) does wonders for you and the act of growing, making or creating just clears my mind and makes me feel so much better. The joy of feeding my family something that I have grown from a tiny seed into a meal is immeasurable, honestly if you ever see me digging my potatoes up you'd think I'd just struck gold from the ridiculous grin on my face! 


I read about Ecotherapy on the MIND website and realised that this is what I am doing for myself!  Ecotherapy is is the name given to a wide range of treatment programmes which aim to improve your mental and physical wellbeing through doing outdoor activities in nature. Connecting with nature in this way can have lots of positive health benefits.

This year I decided to make my allotment into a more communal space, I have also made it more accessible for myself by adding raised beds and wider paths that are covered in underlay and bark chippings.  I'm putting a little seating area in and a fire pit and I have heady plans after watching a youtube video to build my own pizza oven!  It has become my favourite hobby and something that I am proud of.

Believe me, 20 years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of myself loving gardening, I thought it was something that just pensioners did, but now it is one of the greatest pleasures in my week and I definitely feel that it has helped my recovery both physically and emotionally.

Do you garden? Does it help you? Do you have any gardening or allotment tips? Let us know.


Scope
Senior online community officer
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Comments

  • foxuk
    foxuk Member Posts: 102 Pioneering
    Had very bad news last week and was very down.
    This morning the radishes and sugar snap peas I had planted had sprouted and broken through the compost.
    It really is something that lifts the spirits and quietens the down thoughts.
    Jon
    P.S. And what's wrong with being a 'pensioner'. Many of us are from the 1960s and 70s and could show the younger generations a thing or two when it comes to.... oh well better not mention the 70s..... 
  • Geoark
    Geoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,384 Disability Gamechanger
    Personally I am convinced that the only way I could make a success out of gardening would be supplying dead plants to scifi films. That said I do have a strong interest in gardening and how plants can make a huge difference to the environment around us.

    It started early in my voluntary work with a TMO. I arranged a joint project with a local university that brought students onto our estate to come up with ideas to improve it, and later to show their ideas to the residents and get some feedback. One project stuck out more than any other, so much so one of our local councillors was dragged off to see it every 3 or 4 minutes.

    It was a huge poster, 169 Homes, 169 Trees, 169 pieces of dog poo counted in one hour. The rest of the poster was 169 photos of one of these facts. Not the lasting picture of the estate I lived on, but over 10 years later I still hear it being talked about occasionally. It did get me thinking about our environment, and there was a lot wrong with it, and how it could be improved.

    Today instead of two disused playgrounds that were rotting away we have a community garden, a rockery and outdoor gym. A huge amount of money was spent on new planting schemes improving the biodiversity of our estate which has lead to a greater range of wildlife including insects, bugs, spiders and birds.

    My biggest disappointment was I never managed to get approval for my most ambitious plan, which was to create a community orchard using minnerette fruit trees, herbal garden and growing other foods.   .

    I absolutely love your idea of turning your allotment into communal/allotment hybrid. A small piece of land that you can enjoy socially with family and friends as well as providing food for your family. I hope you all get to enjoy your efforts when the sun is out.

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • iza
    iza Member Posts: 565 Pioneering
    edited April 2017
    Hi @Sam_Scope, thank yo for sharing your post. 
    I really like gardening. Unfortunately, I do not have garden  I do not have even proper balcony. 
    Last year I joined Victoria Park Community Centre garden known "Outdoor Classroom". I enjoyed helping planting and watering garden. 
    I wish one day I can have my own one too. 

    Happy Easter 

    Iza 
  • Geoark
    Geoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,384 Disability Gamechanger

    HI @iza there are a number of allotment societies in  your borough, check out the council website.

    One thing I have learned from a lot of reading is that you really don't need a lot of space to grow food or plants. Square foot growing is a growing trend where food can be grown within a square foot, how much depend on what vegetables you are planting. check out quickcrops.co.uk. While most of their plans are for more than 2 foot plots there is no reason why you cannot do 1 foot x foot long.

    One of the things which attract me to minerette fruit trees is that they are as comfortable growing in pots as they are in the ground.

    Minarettes® are slender, columnar fruit trees which bear their fruits on short spurs along the length of a vertical stem rather than on long spreading branches. They are perfect for today's smaller gardens because they can be planted as close as 60-90cm (2-3ft) apart as well as being ideal for growing in tubs on patios or balconies.  When mature, Minarettes® are 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) tall and crop prolifically.  A large range of apples, pears, plums, gages, damsons and cherries are available as Minarettes®. - kenmuir.co.uk

    I am hoping to get two or three in November/December when they are available. At the moment I am trying to persuade my wife for us to get a wormery, organic natural  fertiliser does not seem enough of a motive :(

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • billy1234
    billy1234 Member Posts: 7 Listener
    I would say it helps in a small way towards mental health issues it's one of the things that takes my mind off other things while i am pottering about with my plants and enjoying the flowers in the summer.
  • Bonzaa
    Bonzaa Member Posts: 5 Listener
    Hi I'm new to the group and it's great to her your love of gardening and plans for making it a more communal activity.

     I love gardening and seeing the result of my work be it the freshly turned earth or flowers. Being outside in the fresh air and having time to myself really benefits my mental and physical health.  I have not been very successful at encouraging other members of my family to get involved ( other than to compliment my latest planting scheme ) I think the pizza oven would help!! Pea picking is enjoyed by all. I have grown peas in pots this year and although I pop mine outside during the day you can poluntate these yourself if kept on an inside window ledge. 

    Are you you aware of any active Facebook groups to share plant joys and woes? 
  • billy1234
    billy1234 Member Posts: 7 Listener
    There is a canny website through qvc UK called Richard Jackson's gardening. I have joined it's free and you get some good ideas and tips.i am also one of the lucky people to receive free lily bulbs to test this year.think the offer has ended now.website May be of interest to some people.
  • adriank
    adriank Member Posts: 8 Listener
    I just wanted to say what an inspirational post,
    I myself have ongoing mental health issues that are being diagnosed. So my anxiety is at record levels. 
    My escape is gardening, I am involed with a birmingham charity who as one of there projects run an allotment project. This project is called 'see change' and yes i have seen a change in me, my mental health is the best its been in 43 years, I have lost over 10 stone so I am the healthiest physically ive ever felt.  The great benefit now is i lead by example and more people are coming on board and as its peer led my qualifications gained in agriculture as a student are paying off as i am confident in sharing things that i know about. My anxiety dissapears when gardening. So gardening or any outdoor pursuit or activity has really benefited me and the smiles and laughs I see and hear at the project says it all.
    We have to try many activities before finding one that is beneficial. Gardening however is an activity that you can also eat what you grow allowing people I support to eat healthily too this also changes mental and physical health too.
    Thankyou
    Adrian k
  • foxuk
    foxuk Member Posts: 102 Pioneering
    My Black Russian and Ukrainian Purple tomatoes broke through the compost yesterday after only 7 days in the propagator. 

    Now that's something to make me smile!

    Jon
  • cornishkevin
    cornishkevin Member Posts: 3 Connected

    Hi - I'm new to the group. I've had to cope with serious physically disabling illness and I've mental health issues as well. I have a fairly small paved garden (my dog likes it) and if I'm having rather a bad day, I find pottering about really relaxing and I can soon lose myself. I inherited several mature fuchsia shrubs and had a beautiful display of flowers last summer in a variety of striking colours. I agree, gardening can be a very therapeutic pastime!

    Kev

  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger

    foxuk said:

    My Black Russian and Ukrainian Purple tomatoes broke through the compost yesterday after only 7 days in the propagator. 

    Now that's something to make me smile!

    Jon


    Its like magic isnt it!!  :)
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger
    edited May 2017
    Im so glad you liked it @adriank :)
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger

    Bonzaa said:

    Hi I'm new to the group and it's great to her your love of gardening and plans for making it a more communal activity.

     I love gardening and seeing the result of my work be it the freshly turned earth or flowers. Being outside in the fresh air and having time to myself really benefits my mental and physical health.  I have not been very successful at encouraging other members of my family to get involved ( other than to compliment my latest planting scheme ) I think the pizza oven would help!! Pea picking is enjoyed by all. I have grown peas in pots this year and although I pop mine outside during the day you can poluntate these yourself if kept on an inside window ledge. 

    Are you you aware of any active Facebook groups to share plant joys and woes? 


    Im not too sure, but if you are on instagram you should look up the hashtags #allotmentlife #allotment and #allotmentlove for lots of inspiration from gardeners!
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger

    foxuk said:

    Had very bad news last week and was very down.
    This morning the radishes and sugar snap peas I had planted had sprouted and broken through the compost.
    It really is something that lifts the spirits and quietens the down thoughts.
    Jon
    P.S. And what's wrong with being a 'pensioner'. Many of us are from the 1960s and 70s and could show the younger generations a thing or two when it comes to.... oh well better not mention the 70s..... 


    There's nothing wrong with being a pensioner!! I just wrongly assumed that gardening was only for older people!  :)
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Geoark
    Geoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,384 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi Sam,

    Thanks for sharing. I would love to start growing my own food, but keep putting it off. We have a small balcony and my wife uses it to hang washing so no space. This year I'm trying to wean her off the line to free up some space.

    I am hoping to get two or three Minarette fruit trees and looking at ways of growing herbs in pots on the balcony railing.

    urbangardensweb.com has a lot of great ideas for small scale cheap gardening/growing food. Though with regular posts I sometimes have to dig around to find them. 

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • Geoark
    Geoark Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,384 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi Sam,

    Thanks for sharing. I would love to start growing my own food, but keep putting it off. We have a small balcony and my wife uses it to hang washing so no space. This year I'm trying to wean her off the line to free up some space.

    I am hoping to get two or three Minarette fruit trees and looking at ways of growing herbs in pots on the balcony railing.

    urbangardensweb.com has a lot of great ideas for small scale cheap gardening/growing food. Though with regular posts I sometimes have to dig around to find them. 

    As an individual I stood alone.
    As a member of a group I did things.
    As part of a community I helped to create change!

  • foxuk
    foxuk Member Posts: 102 Pioneering
    My biggest tip as a gardener....

    Radishes bolt and this is a good thing.

    They flower and then produce many edible seed pods. These are really tasty in salad or just as a snack. They are also not so 'wind provoking' as the roots.

    Picking regularly can multiply your yield by 10 fold compared with roots.

    There are even a few heritage varieties that were originally grown for pods but fashions changed.

    Just be a bad gardener, forget to water or feed and they bolt - Marvelous for kids of all ages.

    Jon
  • Bonzaa
    Bonzaa Member Posts: 5 Listener
    That's a great tip I will give it a go
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,674 Disability Gamechanger
    I feel so lucky to have the allotment @Geoark in our old house we didnt have much space and I did a lot in little pots.  Do have a google to see if there are any local spaces near you that offer free or cheap space to garden in.  Also allotments can be cost efficient, especially if you team up with others who want to use it to.
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • foxuk
    foxuk Member Posts: 102 Pioneering
    Allotments vary in cost, facilities and availability over Britain.

    The prices here (Cardiff) are extortionate and the facilities to say the least questionable. In addition there is NO security of tenure and you can be (in theory) moved somewhere else at any time. After taking on a derelict allotment, making good, cultivating, planting etc. our managers decided to 'deepen the stream, to prevent flooding', and drove a JCB through my plot. 

    Another local site was advertising allotments for 'the disabled' - raised beds that were too high and at 6 feet far too wide at a premium price THREE times the normal rental. Literally one half plot split into three at full price. Be aware and be careful.

    With a 10 perch (250 sq M) standard size allotment running at £116.00 a year with an addition of £25.50 for 'storage' (same size as an outside loo) it's not cheap. Water is another factor. On the allotment I used to rent the water was supplied in a cattle feeding trough and had to be carried in watering cans or buckets to the plot with some plots 60 to 70 metres away.

    The cost of seed, compost, fertilizer, pots, seed trays etc. etc. is a large part of a fixed income.

    I start grumbling whenever one of our political masters spouts twaddle about saving money by growing on an allotment as it definitely isn't possible in year one or many years afterwards.

    On the other hand if you are physically up to it it's one of the most rewarding pastimes there is. Just try steamed turnips picked the size of a golf ball with a little butter, runner beans picked young or sungold tomatoes. Food takes on a different dimension. 

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