The pandemic and lockdown life has given everyone a new-found appreciation for green spaces and being outside. Whether you grabbed the chance to revamp your garden last year, channelled your energy into growing and gardening at home, invested in an allotment, or just took the time to enjoy being in your outdoor space; it is no coincidence that these were activities you were drawn to. It is also why it is no surprise that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10th-16th) focused on nature as its theme. Experts have long extolled the health benefits of gardening and connecting with nature. So, yes, the sun was shining, but gardening sales soared during lockdown because the nation instinctively turned to the outdoors for a wellbeing boost to combat the pressure of dealing with the fall-out of COVID
As the virtues of gardening rise up the medical agenda, numerous studies have confirmed the link between horticulture and wellbeing. According to these reports, increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces has been linked to:
- long-term reductions in overall reported health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions)
- reduced levels of obesity
- high physical activity
- higher self-rated mental health
The mental health benefits of gardening are found to be broad and diverse, with one report pointing out that studies have shown “significant reductions in depression and anxiety and improved social functioning”. Gardening has also been shown to reduce stress, increase the ability to concentrate and engage, improve mood, and even alleviate the symptoms of dementia.
An increasing number of organisations now use gardening as therapy and as part of rehabilitation programmes for people with debilitating illnesses or traumas, such as strokes, with reported improvements in motor, speech and cognitive skills.
As the saying goes, “gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.”
Show you care/The power of love
A big part of the benefits gardening and, growing in particular, is about caring for and nurturing something. Turning your attention to a plant that needs your care in order to survive and then, watching it thrive as a result of your handiwork, is enough to give anyone a boost!
Studies found that gardening achievements provide a huge sense of satisfaction and empowerment, which help improve self-esteem and confidence. Grow-your-own has also seen a huge resurgence, which, obviously, has implications for healthier eating habits.
You don’t have to be Alan Titchmarsh to reap the benefits of growing successfully at home. There are plenty of easy projects that will bring great reward – either visually or with something tasty to eat at the end. Centuries-old favourite, the cheerful marigold is easy to grow in sunny spots and will brighten your garden or balcony all summer long with shades of yellow, orange and gold. Sow seeds in pots or directly into the ground with some multi-purpose compost, water regularly and watch them grow. They are a useful bloom too. The petals are edible and make an attractive addition to salads, can be used to flavour stews and soups, or to colour both butter and cheese. They are also excellent dried and added to pot pourri. A treat for all the senses!
Tomatoes and strawberries are also a joy to grow. Both do well in pots, grow bags or hanging baskets, and are great for beginners. Not only do they look bright and beautiful in your garden or balcony, the taste of these homegrown fruits – with the added satisfaction that you grew them – is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Sow seeds early in the season or buy young plants from your local garden centre to pot up in moisture control multi-purpose compost, which is perfect for pots and containers. Water regularly and enjoy! For bigger, juicier fruit, feed your toms or strawberries once a week with a high potash feed, like Tomorite.
Gardening is a great way to keep fit. Did you know that pushing a lawn mower is considered moderate aerobic exercise, or that digging is classified as a strength-building activity? In fact, work in the garden can help you burn between 250 and 500 calories an hour! Weeding may be an unpopular chore but, according to Harvard Medical School, just 30 minutes could have you burning more than 170 calories, whilst half an hour of digging consumes between 150 and 222 calories, depending on your weight. If you’re using a hand mower, instead of a powered version, you’re clearly in for even more of a workout!
If getting down and dirty isn’t quite your thing and you would rather enjoy what your outdoor space has to offer without donning a pair of gardening gloves, then fear not. Studies show that exercising in nature, as opposed to a gym, leads to greater feelings of revitalisation and stress reduction, which makes physical activity feel less strenuous and motivates people to exercise for longer.
Whether a HIIT workout is your thing or you prefer something gentler, like Pilates or yoga, roll out your mat and let the outdoors and nature give your session a welcome boost. If you’d rather give your mind a workout, assume the position – with an appropriate cushion for added comfort – and practise some meditation or mindfulness outdoors for a real lift. If the sounds of nature don’t quite cut it, this handy portable Bluetooth speaker can accompany you to play any mindfulness or meditating tracks you need to feel Zen.
Welcome the wildlife
A lot of people admitted to taking a greater interest in the wildlife in their garden this past year. In fact, many confessed that watching and caring for the birds and any other four or six-legged visitors helped keep them sane during lockdown, providing them with some form of meaningful connection and interaction.
According to The Wildlife Trusts, evidence shows that a thriving, wildlife-rich environment can benefit both physical and mental health, which is even more of a reason to turn your outdoor space into a haven for all creatures great and small.
Keep your feathered friends coming back for more by offering food, water for drinking and bathing, and areas for nesting. Leave a few pebbles or stones in your bird bath, so insects can take a drink too. You can even grow bird-friendly plants, like holly, ivy, and honeysuckle, which provide shelter and food for a wide range of birds.
In soaring summer temperatures, hedgehogs can venture out of their homes in search of water, which can be dangerous for the nocturnal species. Help support your local prickly friend by leaving water out in a shallow dish in a shady spot (they also like meaty tinned dog or cat food, so feel free to top up a pet bowl with some grub and leave out after dark). For real hedgehog enthusiasts, why not invest in a hedgehog home with integrated camera, so you can monitor their habits.
Grow flowers that encourage pollinators and other beneficial insects, such as bees, hoverflies, and butterflies, to your garden. Take note: you need these minibeasts to help pollinate plants like strawberries, so don’t dismiss them too quickly! Cornflowers and other wildflower mixes are really attractive in the garden and will give you as much enjoyment as they will the bugs. If you’re feeling creative, you could try your hand at making an insect hotel.
Capture the Moment
There is something very calming and healing about nature photography and, studies looking at photography and wellbeing, have found the hobby to be beneficial for all types of mental health. There’s something to be said for slowing down and being patient to get the perfect shot in this fast-moving world, looking at things from different angles, and literally stopping to smell the flowers. Whether you take photos and videos of plants in your garden or when out for a walk, it can be very therapeutic and provide a great artistic outlet.
You could also take progress photos of what you are growing to really revel in the journey, and even use time-lapse for that wow factor! The Mixx Action Camera AC10 with mounting accessories offers an immersive experience and lets you capture nature or horticulture on the go. Take it out on walks or bike rides or, why not take advantage of the fact it is waterproof for up to 30m and dip into your garden pond or local river to explore the hidden world under the surface?
If you love watching the birds in your garden, take it a step further and watch the wonder of nature at work with the help of a nest box camera. Either set up a camera in an existing nest box in your garden or get a complete nest box kit that is wired up and ready to go. The colour cameras have infrared vision and integrated microphones, so you can see and listen in on your nesting birds by linking the camera feed up to your TV.
There are lots of places to share these photos and videos with other like-minded people – either in photography groups, or as part of projects, providing great social interaction if that is something you are missing. Celebrate nature and connect with other people at the same time.