Gardening has long been linked with health, not surprisingly since it used to be the way we grew plants for remedies for common illnesses.
These days very few of us use our gardens for this, instead focusing on herbs and flowers; our gardens might help add to our dinner plate but mostly they are somewhere we can go to relax and unwind and to get a little bit of gentle exercise.
Having somewhere to do that has been invaluable for many people during the previous year, but it’s proven to be beneficial even in non-pandemic times. Research has consistently shown that spending time in gardens, allotments, and just green spaces boosts our mental health as well as our physical health. Dutch studies in 2006 and 2009 found lower rates of 15 illnesses, including anxiety and depression, in people who lived within half a mile of green space . And it helps us help the planet – planting wildflowers which attract insects and bees or helping create safe routes for hedgehogs all means that your garden, no matter how big, is doing something positive for you and for the world.
This is an easier thing to embed in your life if you live somewhere with a garden, but even those of us who live in terraces or flats with either no access to a garden, just a small balcony, or a concrete backyard can bring gardening into our lives. Herbs planted on a windowsill not only brighten a kitchen up but also give you something fresh to use in your cooking and you can skip the early gardening steps by doing your best to keep a supermarket basil plant alive; succulents might be a millennial cliché but they thrive on a level of neglect that most plants would break under; and spider plants seem to be making a return to popularity, probably because they too don’t need that much careful attention.
And if that isn’t achievable, or you want to actually feel the dirt underneath your fingernails, there are community gardens and allotments popping up all over the place. Edible York has a list of the spaces they’ve helped support – http://www.edibleyork.org.uk/edibleinitiatives/communitygrowing/. The beauty of this type of project is that you don’t have to be a knowledgeable gardener, just enthusiastic and willing to go along.
There’s also good news for those of us who don’t want to do any gardening, but do want to reap the rewards of other people’s gardening! The research that shows that being in the garden can help reduce levels of depression and anxiety is also applicable to green spaces in general, from gardens to parks, to the grounds of stately homes and walking routes along riverbanks . On campus there are a wonderful range of green spaces we can go and spend some time in, sitting in the Museum Gardens on a lunchbreak is a reachable way to get some green space time in, and a nice change to the lockdown walking route might be a meander through St Nicks or Homestead Park.
This May is the RHS’s Grow Social campaign – https://www.rhs.org.uk/get-involved/community-gardening/news/articles/grow-social. The RHS are encouraging people to apply for a Grow Social pack and to join in with community efforts to connect to nature and break down barriers. It might just be the perfect thing to kickstart your gardening success!