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Wellbeing: A green plot to beat the blues

This is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in the Mail Online 4 May 2014 by Liz Hoggard

With spring in bloom, many of us are getting out in the garden – and flexing your green fingers can also bring amazing benefits for your body and soul. 

The healing benefits of gardening are astonishing health professionals, too. Research in environmental psychology shows that the natural environment promotes recovery from stress and helps to restore the ability to focus attention. Gardeners live longer and have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. When the charity Mind commissioned a study in which people with various mental health problems were asked about their experiences of ‘green activities’ (or ecotherapy, as it is known), a massive 94 per cent said it had benefited their mental health.

One of the primary causes of depression is loss of control. Out in the garden, the patient is in control, making decisions without interference from others. Being part of the natural world – sowing, watering, weeding, pruning, harvesting and ultimately eating the plants – helps us to re-establish our connection with the planet. President of the Royal College of Physicians Sir Richard Thompson is a big advocate of gardening. ‘I would much rather a GP had time to listen to their patients and instead of prescribing antidepressants, prescribed a course of gardening.’

Gardens provide restorative environments. You get to see something grow and flourish (even if your life feels arid). You can work at your own pace. Plus the joy of gardening is you don’t have to spend a fortune on kit, or know all the Latin names. You can start with a few seeds in a pot, or grow herbs in old wine crates, as Isabelle Palmer demonstrates in her book The Balcony Gardener. ‘I want to demystify gardening; it’s about getting people involved and not trying to scare them off,’ says Isabelle, who set up online company thebalconygardener.com, which delivers ready-planted windowboxes and container gardens for small urban outdoor spaces.

Isabelle believes the holistic nature of gardening is a great way to overcome seasonal affective disorder (SAD). ‘Caring for something, keeping it alive, is very good for you – plus getting you hands dirty raises levels of serotonin [the happy chemical]. There’s a microbe in soil that actually triggers the release of serotonin in our brain.’

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