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National Gardening Week - can gardening improve our mental health?

Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
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

Replies

  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    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..... 
  • GeoarkGeoark Posts: 1,028Member, Community champion Chatterbox
    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!

  • izaiza Posts: 408Member, Community champion Chatterbox
    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 
  • GeoarkGeoark Posts: 1,028Member, Community champion Chatterbox

    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!

  • billy1234billy1234 Posts: 7Member 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.
  • BonzaaBonzaa Posts: 5Member 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? 
  • billy1234billy1234 Posts: 7Member 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.
  • adriankadriank Posts: 8Member 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
  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    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
  • cornishkevincornishkevin Posts: 3Member Listener

    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_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team

    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_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
    edited May 2017
    Im so glad you liked it @adriank :)
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team

    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_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team

    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
  • GeoarkGeoark Posts: 1,028Member, Community champion Chatterbox
    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!

  • GeoarkGeoark Posts: 1,028Member, Community champion Chatterbox
    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!

  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    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
  • BonzaaBonzaa Posts: 5Member Listener
    That's a great tip I will give it a go
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
    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
  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    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. 
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
    It's not a perfect system at all @foxuk but it can be doable.  At your costs above, it's around £11 a month and if you can share that with another person or two then costs can be minimal.  

    You can get lots of equipment and even seeds on freecycle sites. The other great thing about allotments is the community spirit, if you make friends with the others, they usually have things/seeds/seedlings/wisdom to pass on.

    I disagree that it isnt financially viable to do in year one.  Year on year I definitely get more back in fruit and veg than I put in money wise.
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    The trouble is that it isn't £11 a month the money is paid annually up front.

    The problem for anyone on benefits is that with that sort of outlay on day one month one the total is impossible.

    Even if the ability to spread the expense exists the commitment for the year is off-putting i.e. risking future expense on food by committing in advance to pay that money elsewhere. i.e. what happens if there is a crop failure.

    Otherwise I totally agree with you. Even small areas can be productively 'farmed' at quite a good profit, not to mention the freshness and flavour.

    A tomato grown from seed on a patio in a pot or even poly bag (yet another use for carrier bags) will pay dividends. Runner beans, grown up string not bamboo, are very profitable (avoid dwarf varieties as the yield is much lower).

    Small areas,cropped in rotation. containers made from milk cartons and 2ltr bottles. Low outlay in money and physical effort.

    Jon

    P.S. My Nan was North Wales Welsh and she made the Scottish stereotype look like spendthrifts.

    P.P.S. At present experimenting with drip feed irrigation using (very out of date) Bard 2ltr bed bags as a reservoir and Chinese fittings. I knew they'd come in handy for something! 

     
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
    Ohh I keep looking into drip feeds, that's interesting! My husband just made me a water drinker for the chickens out of tubing, a barrel and water drainage off a garage roof - very exciting!

    I understand your point about the upfront costs, I also think running an allotment on your own is such hard work, I strongly recommend people to find like minded friends and chip in on money and work.
    Scope
    Senior online community officer
  • foxukfoxuk Posts: 81Member Talkative
    I was younger when I had mine but having an allotment 'in common' is just like any partnership. You need to get the 'rules' down first better not to have one than lose friends over misunderstandings.

    I may even post the drip feed on here when working. I stress that the bags were leftovers from when my dad died and I tried to get the district nurses to have them many times. Now they are 'out of date' so better re-purpose than go to landfill.

    Drip irrigation parts are cheaper by the 50s from banggood.com (China), eBay (China) and Amazon (China). I recon to have spent around £10 for all the parts that I had to buy .... 50 2ltr dripfeeders for single plants.

    I wish I could buy from the UK but as the parts sold by the UK companies are repackaged here and made in China anyway..... As long as the value is less than (Ithink) £15 there is no Tax or duty to pay. I always try to stay under £10 for any single purchase anyway to be safe.

    No dig, raised beds, square foot layout and the work after year one is minimal. On gardener's question time Bob Flowerdew claimed that he had not dug his garden in 21 years. 

  • izaiza Posts: 408Member, Community champion Chatterbox
    Hi @Geoark, Hi @Sam_Scope

    Thanks for the tips and links about gardening. I will check them out soon. 

    Have a good day. 

    Iza 
  • Sam_ScopeSam_Scope Posts: 6,791Administrator Scope community team
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