We asked Annabelle Padwick, the founder of Life at No.27 to share her expert advice on how gardening can improve mental health and is a powerful therapy for positive wellbeing.
Annabelle is a professional gardener, wellbeing therapist, children’s author of YOU CAN grow your own food, feature writer for Kitchen Garden magazine and potato growing addict. Her therapeutic and educational programmes for children and adults, are proven to build confidence and resilience, teach new skills, help you make new friends and ultimately, have fun….
Plants are incredible healers and teachers for us all, so getting out in nature amongst them and all the wildlife is great on those blue Mondays or any day! I think many of us have discovered a new or greater appreciation for the outdoors in the last 12 months too thanks to the stay home message, working from home and home schooling.
How can getting outside and trying your hand at gardening continue to help you to improve your own wellbeing? Sowing little seeds and bulbs teach the power of self-care, love and nurture; give a seed or yourself the right amount of water, food, sunlight, patience, rest and love, then see what happens. You thrive! Plants and humans are very similar, some might just say that we have more complicated emotions. But, through experience with some of my plants, I think I find them very complicated too.
I recognise that gardening doesn’t always go to plan and isn’t always bright sunflowers, perfect roses and juicy tomatoes. This is exactly why I teach gardening to children and adults though, alongside wellbeing discussions and games. Growing your own food safely teaches patience and resilience; if a seed doesn’t germinate or a plant dies, you can try work out why and just try again. You can make mistakes in a safe environment without pressure or worry of judgement.
Annabelle's tips for using gardening to improve your mental health in 2021
Gardening for better mental health tip one:
If you ever need a reminder on how to look after yourself and not just those around you, plant a seed or bulb! Everything they need, you need too! Water, food, patience, love, sunlight, air, rest and space to spread out your roots and feel safe without being disturbed. Can you think of any other similarities?
Gardening for better mental health tip two:
We definitely aren’t designed to cope with the chaos, demand, expectations and pressures we are facing right now and put on ourselves. In order to cope, let alone thrive mentally and physically, we need to find a way to look after ourselves. Whether you choose to get out in the garden, hide in the bathroom and lock the door for five minutes with headphones in, read a book or watch a movie; we all need to take time to slow down.
Plants are extra great for this, as many of the processes in gardening are methodical, so you can really break tasks down, focus on your breath and get lost in the actions, colours, smells and tastes of the garden. Use the weeds as a visual opportunity to de-stress, removing all the negative feelings and thoughts in your mind. In turn, making clear space for healthier thoughts, clarity and new plants!
Gardening for better mental health tip three:
You don’t need to set out to re-design your whole garden for a confidence boost! Start simple by planting up one plant pot, a raised bed or border. As your plants begin to grow, so will your confidence. Take your time with every step and gradually build up to more complicated tasks like pruning and taking cuttings. If you ever get stuck, remember that gardeners love to share their passion, we just do! So, always ask for help in your local garden centre, speak to a friend, or reach out on social media, you'll be surprised how much gardening can improve your own mental health.
Gardening for better mental health tip four:
We all want to be physically fitter, which in turn can help make us mentally healthier. Gardening gets your body moving at your own pace, boosts your metabolism up a gear and increases your heart rate. What’s great about gardening for fitness is that it is cheaper than the gym (unless you are a plant addict), you get double the rewards and it is adaptable for many abilities and lifestyles! Wooden raised beds are great if moving around and working at ground level isn’t possible. You can sit on the edge or in a chair by the side and still get stuck in. The arms, abs and shoulders are working and your plants are growing. WIN, WIN!
Gardening for better mental health tip five:
I love running outside to the containers and raised beds full of vegetables, immediately snacking on the nearest freshly popped pea or tomato… yummy! Growing and storing your own produce keeps the winter stews coming too. The odd takeaway treat or junk cupboard dash is definitely staying I admit, but learning to grow your own food makes delicious goodness easier to grab, cook and eat!