When I was first asked to write a guest blog about the connection between horticulture and well-being, I wondered where to start? Should I focus on the health benefits of physical activity in the fresh air and sunshine? The mental wellness achieved from the great outdoors and engaging with nature? Or, what about the general sense of purpose and reward gained from the fruits of a gardener’s labour?
Simply broken down, the outdoors and in particular the activity of gardening scores highly with all our senses and is a truly rewarding and immersive experience.
My first garden was a tiny 1m x 1m balcony, which quickly got filled with pots containing miniature trees, daffodils in some old wellies, rampaging mint and strawberry plants gifted to me from an experienced gardener friend.
But don’t hold back if this is all new to you. I’m now a self-confessed Google gardener. We’re living in a world where inspiration, tips, tricks and sage advice can be accessed instantly online.
My Instagram feed is 80% gardening. I have the RHS app (free) and link to my favourite horticulturalists for some “green screen” time, amongst the obligatory celeb stalking and social updates. I recently learnt green is a healing colour, so I felt a little better when I got my weekly screen usage update, that a reasonable proportion was spent on all things green! Maybe one day soon you too can share your green fingered greatness online to inspire others.
Below are my top tips for enhancing well-being through gardening and evoking all your senses:
Sight: In addition to a green back drop, adding a burst of colour can infuse the sense of sight with the magic and awe most of us hanker for from our gardens. Plants bearing fruits or vegetables are a great choice as they also have beautiful blossom or flowers. If you want year-round colour, visit a garden centre every month and buy plants that are in bloom. Flowering shrubs might be a better bet if your garden space is shared for ball games! Shrubs such as a flowering Portuguese laurel (prunus lusitanica) tend to absorb football strikes more readily than the flowering head of a dahlia.
Sound: Pull up a seat and just listen. Being outside is a serenade of different sounds. But if you are near a busy road or a have a noisy neighbour then the following might help mitigate the unwanted intrusion. Bamboo sounds beautiful in the breeze. Whilst for birdsong a raised feeder and some water sources are likely to attract plenty of winged visitors, who will also lend a hand keeping pests, including slugs, at bay.
Smell: Within the same genus, plants can either carry a scent or not. I need to learn more about the biology of this (one day). But in the meantime, there are certain smells I cannot forego within the garden, number one being lavender. English lavender is the hardier variety and well-suited to most areas of the UK, though French lavender is prettier and flowers earlier. The silvery leaves of the plants are evergreen, the lavender flowers can be added to baked treats or a gin & tonic. The cuttings can be dried and enjoyed the whole year round. There are so many wonderful perfumes from azaleas to roses, find your favourites and add them to your garden.
Touch: Walk in your garden bare foot. This is free reflexology and gives you a sense of grounding like no other. Real grass, smooth paving stones or even a puddle, whatever the natural surface, it will give you a wonderful restorative feeling, so ditch those wellies or sandals for a few moments and feel the Earth.
Taste: You eat so you grow! Plant herbs, fruits and vegetables. This aspect of the garden has grown in importance for me in recent years. I now think I had many wasted horticultural opportunities before I started to grow more of my own foods. Plant a fruit tree, easy to care for and perfect low maintenance. All can be grown in virtually any size garden. A space in an existing bed or dedicating a sunny spot for food only. Grow in a pot, up a wall or to cover a fence. Then enjoy the harvest.
I hope you find some well-being in your outdoor space and create a garden to stimulate all your senses.
Gee Smedley has worked within financial services since 1998. Gardening has been a constant source of well-being and provides her with much needed rebalancing of the senses each week.