It has now become widely accepted, through research and many people’s own lived experience, that gardening and being outdoors are hugely beneficial for our mental wellbeing. Gardening is recognised as having healing properties, in that it can help restore us to a sense of wholeness and offer connection to the cycle of life. This is certainly something that I have experienced throughout my own life.
Living with depression and anxiety since my teens, I felt alienated from nature and consumed by my own worries and fears about life. It was only after I left home that my relationship with gardening began to blossom, when I first started growing vegetables whilst living as a student in a shared house with a very small garden. It was with great pride that I sowed my first tomato seeds and nurtured them on my windowsill until they were mature enough to be planted outside. This process saw me connecting with nature and myself in a way that I never had before and brought about a shift in the way I viewed life. Seeing those little seedlings appear was like watching magic happen before my eyes, and with them, a sense of accomplishment and confidence in my own abilities also began to grow. My seedlings continued to develop into sturdy plants in the grow bags that became their new home and within a couple of months I was rewarded for my efforts with my first delicious home-grown tomatoes!
Many years later, after starting a family, it was with great excitement that I introduced my children to the world of gardening and they delighted in growing their own little plants. Cress seeds were particularly fun to try first, as they could be sprinkled on the earth to form letters as they grew. Potatoes and carrots were always a big hit, because harvesting them was like digging for treasure, with instant rewards being unearthed by little hands. Peas were also popular because they tasted so fresh when eaten straight from their pods. And we found that there is no supermarket competition for freshly picked corn on the cob, which was particularly sweet when cooked straight after harvesting.
In time I took on an allotment, where we grew more and bigger crops. And not only was it a productive place for growing fruit and vegetables, it became my sanctuary, a safe place I could escape to when life got too busy and chaotic. I often took with me a book to read, or wrote in my journal as I sat under the apple tree on my plot, feeling a sense of renewed peace as my batteries were recharged by nature. But as my life has continued to grow busier I have had less time to spend on there and it was with some sadness that after fifteen happy years I recently gave up my plot.
All is not lost though, and here’s another great thing about nature – it is all around us and we don’t need to travel far to feel its benefit. I am fortunate to have a back garden at home and this is where I am now turning my attention again. But even without a garden you can still experience the joy of gardening, growing flowers and vegetables in pots that can fit on small balconies and windowsills. Or you can enjoy one of the larger community gardens that have sprung up and been cultivated in many of our towns and cities.