Make your garden a mental wellbeing sanctuary
Many of us have found comfort and escapism tending our gardens and these bring science-backed benefits for our mental wellbeing
While you may not be baking endless banana loaves and hosting weekly quizzes any more, one pandemic habit that has stuck – and with good reason – is gardening.
UK researchers found that people with access to a private garden reported better health and wellbeing both during and after the first UK lockdown, and were likelier to feel calm, peaceful and have good energy levels.
Dr Luke Felton, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology of Human Performance, at the University of Roehampton agrees. ‘We saw an increase in participants’ general feelings of happiness and they felt more confident about achieving their specific goals,’ he says.
‘These findings support other research that has shown similar improvements in self-esteem, psychological wellbeing, and reductions in stress.’
One key aspect is ‘biophilia’, the innate human instinct to connect with nature. It’s something a 2022 study cited: people exposed to more green space during the first year of the pandemic reported significantly less depression and anxiety.
We instinctively seek solace in nature, perhaps because we subconsciously recognise it has many benefits like mindfulness, acceptance and improved focus. So, that being said, here’s how to make your garden a wellbeing haven...
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Think about colour
Rather than simply choosing plants you know, that you’ve read are easy to keep alive or that are on sale, be more intentional about creating a mood-enhancing garden using colour.
How to do it:
There are a few specific plants that always come to mind when thinking about ensuring some positivity, like the sunflower for example.
They’re easy to grow from seed and they get big fast, so long as you protect them from slugs and wind. Their huge, cheerful, bright flowers never fail to raise a smile.
They are also a natural bird feeder, which makes your outdoor space full of birdsong and joy.
As ‘jewel-coloured gardens’ has been named as a gardening trend for this year, how can colour influence your mood? Greens and blues are to be known as calming colours, while yellows and reds are stimulating, but suggests we listen to our instincts and what we love to look at.
Seek out scent
Another factor to consider is fragrance. A 2021 study found that natural smells such as lavender, grass, wood, and conifer needles ‘evoke strong feelings of connectedness to nature’.
How to do it:
Citrus (best in a conservatory or greenhouse) is an incredible scent in flowers, or blackcurrants whose crushed foliage gives off a wonderful, fizzing aroma.
Growing lemon verbena for a delicious tea that brings calm and positivity, but also for a scent that releases endorphins.
Think about having plants that you can brush past and release foliage scents like calming lavender, stimulating rosemary or spicy fennel.
In fact, you can effectively create a little apothecary of your own! The scent of some herbs has been shown to have effects on mood, so add rosemary to lift depression and lavender for sleep.
Create a feel-good atmosphere
Think about how you want to feel when you’re in the space, and plant accordingly. Perhaps you want to plant things that remind you of your childhood or of loved places you’ve visited, for example.
How to do it:
For so many of us, scent brings back memories, especially around the holidays.
Our minds work by forgetting the mundane and holding on to the unusual. That’s why holidays that only lasted a week seem to have gone on forever when we remember them.
So planting things that remind us of holidays like palms, (Trachycarpus fortunei) and tropical plants like banana (Musa basjoo) or tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) can really take us back to far-off trips.
Grow your own
Growing your own fruit and veg is satisfying, healthy, and good for your household finances. Plus, it leads you to enjoy other [self-care] activities like cooking, and sharing gluts.
How to do it:
Herbs are a good place to start. While some herbs like coriander or basil are best on indoor kitchen window sills, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme are better on outdoor window sills or pots.
Mediterranean herbs – so the highly aromatic woody ones such as rosemary, thyme, sage and tarragon – like free-draining gravelly compost, good sunlight and less waste.
Basil, lovage and parsley – the more sappy, soft, green herbs need more water and less direct sun, and will begin to wilt when they need moisture.
Make it eco
Feeling that you are doing your bit for the planet brings tremendous feelings of wellbeing. Although our individual impact overall will be small, but if everyone contributes it adds up.
Adopting organic, eco-friendly approaches to your gardening is also cheaper, more creative and imaginative.
How to do it:
Plant a lot! Plants take up water, which means that gardens with more plants and less hard surfaces help reduce flood risk and help to create good ecosystems.
Rather than plastic bottles of feed, she suggests finding a local source of manure or grow plants like nettles and comfrey, which offer a chance to make high nitrogen feeds.
Reduce watering too. Plant into the ground if you can, as this makes plants much more able to find their own water, and when you do water, do it less often but for a longer period. This means that water gets right down to the deep roots, so they dry out less quickly, making them more resilient.
Vitality health insurance offers members up to eight online or face-to-face Talking Therapy sessions each year, including counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
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