Garden connecting for health and wellbeing
With an education in horticulture and nearly 20 years of running a small organic gardening company, inspired by my volunteer experience on permaculture and semi sustainable organic farms in New Zealand and Spain I can think of nothing more ‘wholesome’ than sharing and educating others in this amazing British past time. Having built large natural swimming ponds for wildlife, providing replants adaptable to soil types and pest problems, I began to venture into offering 1-2-1 gardening workshops to the children of some of my longstanding clients.
Therapeutic gardening or ‘nature connecting for wellbeing’ as I prefer to call it, is an adaptable activity that is responsive to the interests and needs of those engaged in it and one that can be used in education to improve numeracy, literacy and work skills while benefiting from working with nature. Not exclusively aimed at children but also the elderly and those in care homes where it is shown to reduce dementia symptoms, provide cognitive stimulation and increase mental and physical wellbeing.
It is an activity that consistently promotes ecology and cultivates the relationship with our physical surroundings in a time of critical ecological and environmental awareness. While motor skills and cognition are both put to practise during gardening activities every effort is made to ensure that the planned activities are tailored around the group.
It is also an activity that is adaptable to the climate allowing for consistency in delivering to expected targets but is not exclusively reaching outcomes. It is rather about building raised awareness, having nature-based activities and highlighting the relationships within nature, ecology and our own wellbeing.
Research into therapeutic horticulture exposes many health benefits of gardening as a mindfulness and stress reduction activity.
It was Wilson who popularised the term Biophilia although German psychologist Fromm explored it as an innate love we hold for the loving of life and other living systems. The idea that humans are happier when we are in contact with nature is not a new concept and the idea that because we are of nature, we are connected to it and can be restored by it is finding its place in modern societies. From Cyrus the great of Persia over 2500 years ago who recognised gardens as a place for calm and restoration through to modern day Forest baths which claim to have power to keep illnesses such as cancer, strokes, ulcers, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety at bay.
Shinrin-yoku or Forest bathing in Japan is now so popular as proof has come to light of its ability to reduce the stress hormone and boost the immune system and is readily recommended by health professionals in one of the world’s most densely populated countries where life expectancy is still above 90 years old.
In the 1970s and 80s, Robert Ulrich ran experiments in post-surgery recovery showing that patients who simply had a view of nature from their hospital bed recovered faster than those that didn’t. This room with a view and access to garden space during recovery showed a positive impact not only on recovery when the patient re-connected with nature but also on blood pressure, muscular tension, brain and heart activity.
Dr Van Den Bosch of Sweden a leading researcher into gardening and mental health, published in The Journal of Physiology and behaviour, that tested against brain chemistry that the sounds of nature alone, such as the wind whistling through trees or a bubbling stream, reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Scientists have also found that the mycobacterium, mycobacterium vaccae ,which is found in soil increases the happy hormone serotonin in the brain.
Dr Bird, advisor to the NHS was as bold as to say that
“There are considerable savings to be made if we really get horticulture therapy up to the standards of other health interventions. £1 spent on access to community outdoor schemes would save the NHS £5 in other treatments”
Gardening has the ability, to impact positively on us performatively, psychologically and physically. With demands on our lives, our communities and a raised awareness of age related neurological conditions and mental health conditions it is little wonder this activity is seen as both preventative and as an intervention ‘therapy’.
What I offer
While my programmes are highly adaptable to the requests of the individual, a typical session lasts between one hour to ninety minutes.
Activities are set according to the time of year and the weather conditions. While in winter the set activities for a younger audience may be around creating hedgehog homes, creating leaf characters and collecting and exploring leaves, the growing season will allow a much greater diversity of tasks and have threaded into the programme the journey from seed to plate.
Although I do run sessions all year round at a local school, private sessions generally run during the growing season from March/April through to November.
I will come to your garden/home or establishment for a chat and evaluation as how to best set up a functioning workable space with the vision of the individual/s taking full control of the space as they enter their second year. Having picked up the confidence and skills the previous year to increase their love and relationship with their space in nature.
This is more than just a gardening club as we work together to truly connect with nature, its needs and establish a very real relationship with the soil and our food. We look at the ecology and the insect and nature relationships having a diverse and loved garden offers. We breathe in and mindfully practise nurturing gardening.
When we care about nature, we truly care about ourselves. Not only is gardening an activity that will get you out into the fresh air, offering light exercise, it is an activity that can cultivate a caring and responsible attitude towards nature which can reflect in care for and a responsible attitude towards ourselves and our true natures.
I would on request be delighted to combine aspects of nature mindfulness and meditation into my sessions as with a deeper connection to nature I truly believe we are truly closer to our true natures. A place from where deep peace and happiness roots.
So whether you are an individual, parent, carer, home school educator group or are just interested in reconnecting with nature, get in touch and lets discuss how I can bring my services to you.