This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ellie Porter

The Health Benefits of Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a healthy hobby. It gets you outside and active, and can offer stress relief and the freshest produce you can find. Read on to learn about the many ways outdoor gardening can support your health.

Outdoor Gardening is Physical Activity

Maintaining a garden takes physical effort. In fact, it’s enough work that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it to be moderate physical activity. Each hour of gardening burns about 330 calories. If you’re getting into heavy yard work, it’s considered vigorous physical activity and could burn about 440 calories per hour.

Physical activity can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. You could also reduce high blood pressure, arthritis pain, and your risk for osteoporosis and falls. Not to mention, gardening offers fresh produce that can improve the quality of your diet if you’re not regularly eating fresh fruits and vegetables regularly.

Gardening is an intriguing choice of exercise for people with disabilities. Not all exercise or physical activity is well suited to all abilities. But anyone who can manipulate tools can garden effectively and get the physical benefits.

Gardening can also help you maintain hand muscle strength and dexterity.

Spending Time Outside Gardening is Key

The physical activity offered by outdoor gardening can offer health support, but even if you’re not putting a lot of effort into it, you’re still getting outside. That alone can offer a long list of benefits.

Just being outdoors offers sun exposure. While sunscreen is important for avoiding sun damage, getting in the sunlight supports good health in multiple ways.

For one, sun exposure can help your body produce Vitamin D. This vitamin is responsible for maintaining bone and teeth health, support your immune system, brain, and nervous system, lung function and cardiovascular health, and also regulates insulin levels.

Sun exposure is also a powerful cue for your sleep and wake cycle, known as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock relies on cues such as your daily schedule of eating and physical activity, but it’s also dependent on light, and particularly sunlight. When you’re getting outdoors, you’re sending a signal to your circadian rhythm that the bright light and physical activity means it’s daytime. That helps reinforce correct timing so that when bedtime rolls around, it’s easier for your internal clock to recognize that it is in fact night and time to get in bed and rest.

Mental Health Support from Outdoor Gardening

Outdoor gardening can be a particularly satisfying and stress relieving activity. Tending to your garden means creating fresh produce, and it can be rewarding to physically see the fruits of your labor.

Also, the physical act and focus of gardening may help you relieve stress and anxiety. As you’re working on your garden, it may feel like meditation as you become focused on the task at hand and stressors and anxious thoughts get pushed away.

Outdoor gardening offers health benefits both physical and mental. Spend time outside, relieve stress, and enjoy the products of your garden for better health.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Neil Rawlins

Flowers of New Zealand

Deep in the South Pacific, at approximately the antipodes of the British Isles, lie the islands of New Zealand. The northern island is washed by the warmer currents of the South Pacific, while the southern islands are influenced by the turbulent winds of the Roaring Forties which are generated in the circumpolar Antarctic Convergence of the Southern Ocean. To put New Zealand in a European perspective latitude-wise, Auckland, in the north, lies on approximately the same latitude south of the equator as does Malaga in Spain or Algiers, lie north; Wellington, the capital, lies about the same as Rome or Barcelona. Queenstown in the south is about the same as the Bordeaux region of France, and Oban, the only settlement on Stewart Island, is about the same as Paris. In this unique environment, separated by around 2000 kilometres from Australia, the nearest neighbour, the fauna and flora of these islands evolved for millennia without outside influences. Species homo sapiens arrived less than a thousand years ago.

Some 80-85% of New Zealand’s plant life is unique just to these islands. The giant kauri trees of the (Agathis australis) of the North Island are among the world’s largest trees by volume, and in the southern beech (Notofagus spp.) of the South Island  was the inspiration for Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Perhaps the most distinctive tree in the coastal North Island is the pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), better known as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, whose bright crimson flowers decorate the cliff tops and beaches between November to January. These flowers attract the nectar-feeding tui bird, an important pollinator.

A tui feeding on nectar in a pohutukawa

In the early spring the semi-deciduous kowhai (Sophora tetraptera} bursts into a splendid display of vivid yellow flowers – Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow. This showy beautiful flower, also pollinated by nectar-feeding birds, is unofficially New Zealand’s National flower. It’s much rarer cousin, the kowhai ngutu-kaka, or kaka beak (Clianthus puniceus) is, arguably, NZ’s most showy flower. Although extremely rare in the wild, it grows well in gardens.

The yellow kowhai flowers

The showy red blooms of the kaka-beak

In the alpine regions of the Southern Alps, in spring and early summer, blooms what is erroneously called the Mt Cook lily (Ranunculus lyalli) which is more correctly called the giant buttercup. It is one of many species of buttercup found only in New Zealand. I believe seeds of this alpine plant are available in selected garden centres in UK.

Mt Cook lilies, or giant buttercup, flowering in Mt Cook National Park

Several New Zealand native plants are well known to gardeners in Britain by their Latin species name rather than their Maori name. Perhaps one of the best known are the hebe species. These range, in New Zealand, from the coastal environments to the alpine regions, all with different characteristics and colour variations. The most common is the koromiko (Hebe stricta), samples of which were first taken back to UK by Joseph Banks who was with Captain Cook’s first expedition to the Pacific.

Bumble bee in a koromiko (Hebe stricta) flower

Harakeke, or New Zealand flax, is better known in the UK as a phormium. There are two main species – Phormium tenox and Phormium cookianum – the second being Cook’s, or alpine flax, with smaller leaves and yellow flowers. NZ flax has large tough leaves and orange flowers. Variegated or red-leaved varieties are garden hybrids.

Flowers of the NZ flax (Phormium tenax)

Cook’s flax (Phormium cookianum)

The last native I will mention is the kotukutuku, or tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata). This is the largest of fuchsia family and is one of the very few deciduous trees in New Zealand. The fruit produced, known as konini, is pleasant tasting and was a popular food-source to the pre-European Maori – if they could get to the fruit before the native pigeons!

tree fuchsia flower and fruit

large fuchsia trunk in the Stewart Island forest

Neil Rawlins,

travel writer & photographer

www.neilrawlins.blogspot.com

Books published on Amazon – One Foot in Front of the Other

This week’s guest blogger is Alison Moore

A garden for all seasons

For the past seven years I have been lucky enough to enjoy a second career as a garden designer, and whether it’s working with a completely blank canvas or just giving a garden a bit of a makeover, I get huge amounts of job satisfaction from my work.

Photography is also an integral part of indulging my passion for gardening and design. Taking my camera for a walk around a beautiful garden is both a great way to relax and also a source of inspiration for my own planting designs.

There are so many wonderful gardens in my area, some of which just open occasionally for the National Garden Scheme, and others that are open all year round. My favourite local haunt is the National Trust gardens at Dunham Massey near Altrincham which includes a 7 acre winter garden.  Under the expert guidance of head gardener Emily Chandler the gardens are flourishing and there is always something new to see.

To show you the whole of the gardens would take far more space than this blog allows, but let me take you on a little tour of the winter garden and some of its’ gems through the seasons.

Spring

I’ll start with the daffodils. These are spectacular at Dunham. There are so many varieties planted in the garden, from the early ones such as Rijnvelds ‘Early Sensation’ right through to the late flowering Narcissus ‘Actaea’ pictured below.

And this is one of my favourite spring bulbs -pictured below – Fritillaria Meleagris aka Snake’s head fritillary is establishing itself really well at Dunham now.

One of the paths that wind through the winter garden, with Magnolia stellata looking rather lovely in the foreground.

Summer

The winter garden in summer is a quiet place, as you might expect, but still my favourite part of the garden. At times you can almost feel like you have the place to yourself as the majority of visitors tend to head for the spectacular perennial borders and rose garden. This photo (below) was taken in early June last year and for me it captures the understated natural beauty of the garden.

Butterflies and insects are attracted to the wildflowers that are allowed to grow here in summer.

And in high summer the hydrangeas have their day enjoying the dappled shade of the trees.

Autumm

What a glorious sight this is with the scarlet leaves of the acers falling over one of the pathways! I was lucky enough to capture this image below on a perfect autumn day a couple of years ago.

Underneath the many mature trees in the winter garden a carpet of pink Cyclamen hederifolium brings colour to the woodland floor.

Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ has the most unusual coloured berries. The birds tend to leave these alone, so the purple berries last well into winter.

Winter

We don’t tend to get much snow in this part of Cheshire, but when we do the winter garden takes on a new prettiness.  The seed heads of Phlomis russeliana look stunning when covered with snow.

Hammelis or Witch Hazel is one of my favourite scented winter shrubs and the flowers are a dream to photograph. There are many varieties at Dunham and they add colour even in the depths of winter.

And although we think of snowdrops as a sign of spring, February is the month when they are at their best.

I hope that this little photo tour of the winter garden at Dunham Massey has been of interest. I’d highly recommend a visit at any time of year if you’re in the area. The site is fully accessible to disabled visitors https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey#Facilities

Alison Moore

Website renaissance-gardendesign.co.uk

Twitter @renaissancegd

Instagram   @a1isonmoore