Insights July 13, 2020

Get your hands in the soil – it will do good for your mind, body and spirit

Living Word
By Living Word

Gardening has been shown to improve our mental as well as physical health. It can be a way of dealing with anxiety and depression and, according to the RHS, an increasing number of GPs are prescribing gardening for rehabilitation as well as prevention. But what is it really that makes us feel better?

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. It collaborates with universities in the UK and the USA on finding the link between gardening and good health. The RHS has also teamed up with the NHS to promote the role of gardens in maintaining sound mental health and general wellbeing.

Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England National Clinical Director for Mental Health, writes about the mental benefits of gardening in his essay, Growing and gardens are good for you, which is available on the RHS website. He claims that even the smallest garden or just pots on a balcony can provide comfort. “The life cycle of plants and changing seasons provides a heartbeat of activity. Whether you would call it mindfulness, meditation or something else, the effect can be a potent one.” He concludes: “Ultimately, it is fair to say, a garden is one of those things that can give people purpose and hope at times when they feel they have neither.”

In fact, in a new UK survey commissioned by the RHS, 70% of respondents said that having a garden has helped their mental health during lockdown. As many as 60% felt that their physical health has also benefitted from gardening. Regardless of size, just over half of respondents value their gardens more now than before lockdown.

Gardening as an antidote to perfectionism

Alice Vincent is the author of books Rootbound: Rewilding a life; How to Grow Stuff: Easy, no-stress gardening for beginners; and Seeds from Scratch. In a recent column in The Telegraph, she elaborates on why gardening can improve mental health. “One of the most welcome aspects of gardening’s return to vogue is its mental health benefits,” she says. “For those who grow things, gardening’s ability to make one feel, well, better, is long-established. An afternoon pottering about with plants is calming in a no-fuss-please sort of way.”

Last year, licensed psychologist Seth J. Gillihan wrote an article in Psychology Today about ten mental benefits of gardening. He claimed that, in addition to things such as relieving stress, promoting presence in the present moment and aiding a growth mindset, gardening can be a good antidote to perfectionism. “No matter how carefully you plan and execute your garden, there are countless factors you can’t predict — invasions by bugs, inclement weather, hungry rodents.”

On that note, why not take inspiration from Jeong Kwan, the South Korean monk and chef featured in Chef’s Table on Netflix? She has a stress-free view on the temple’s wild garden: “All year long, plants grow by the energy of nature, the universe, the Earth and human labour. It’s man’s greed that wants the plants to grow faster and grow bigger and prettier. That is why some resort to chemical substances. But I let the plants in my garden grow as they want.” What she appreciates is nature’s own process: “After planting the seeds, I just watch them grow. They grow in snow, rain, wind and sunlight. When it’s hot, they grow in heat. When it’s cold, they grow in cold. I make food from these vegetables with a blissful mind. And I eat the vegetables with joy.” What a soothing approach, to watch nature do its work.