I love to go out into the garden first thing in the morning with a cup of tea in my hand to inspect all the plants, to see what is growing well, what is in flower and to notice what is beautiful.
When did you first start gardening?
I started in 1979 when I grew my first sweet peas, relishing their sweet fragrance, and sowed my first rows of vegetables. I got such a feeling of pleasure from my first few successes; I think that was when I became firmly interested in it as a hobby.
A year-round hobby….
From the first signs of Spring in January, I begin planning my garden for the coming season. In February I am already sowing seeds, and by March I am outside weeding and dividing up overgrown clumps of perennials. In April I am in the garden every day, tidying flower beds. In May and June I am planting up new pots and beginning a regular watering regime. July and August see me relaxing into a more reflective form of gardening, drinking coffee, admiring my work and cutting bunches of flowers to bring inside. I look forward to the summer months, when I invite friends, neighbours and family to share my garden with me. September brings the harvesting of home-grown tomatoes, courgettes and apples, whilst October is my tidying time and settling things down again for the Winter months.
How does your gardening hobby help your wellbeing?
The sense of freedom that growing plants can give you, by refocusing your thoughts, is particularly helpful, and I have found it can introduce a feeling of steadiness into a jumbled mind. I feel very motivated by my gardening and derive a real sense of achievement from it. I get really excited in the Spring when the seeds I have sown suddenly begin to grow – the sense of wonder never leaves me, when I consider that simply by giving a tiny, inert seed some warmth and water it will spring into life – how amazing is that?!
Is there scientific evidence to show that gardening can improve mental health?
Yes there is! There are microbes in soil call mycobacterium vaccae, which can have a positive effect on neurons in the brain, making you feel more relaxed and happier. There is even work going on at Colorado University to develop a microbe based ‘stress vaccine’!
Would you have any advice for a beginner?
A pack of seeds is only a few pounds and there is a wealth of advice on the internet, such as the Royal Horticultural Society. If you don’t have a garden you can grow edible food, such as cress, on a windowsill or beautiful houseplants to create an indoor garden. Or you can put yourself on a waiting list for an allotment space or try growing plants in troughs or tubs. There are even schemes which encourage people to share their garden space with others, such as ‘Land and Tend’ or Incredible Edible. You could also join Britain in Bloom, a Royal Horticultural Society initiative which brings communities together to plant and tend flower displays in their local area to be entered into a National competition. The overall winner last year was in Amersham, Bucks – not far from us.
Give it a go! – I’d love to hear how you get on!
With thanks also to Jason, expert by experience, for his contributions to this article.