Coming from a long lineage of gardeners it wasn’t surprising that I too caught the gardening bug but it wasn’t until faced with my own serious physical health issues that I took what I ate seriously and looked into where our food comes from. Retraining for a more active and outdoor life, growing our own produce and dietary changes have played a huge part in improving my ankylosing spondylitis and combined with the healing process of gardening, growing has been a blessing on my mental health as well.
Through previously working as an occupational therapist in mental and physical health I realised what an amazingly therapeutic medium horticulture can be. Through further training with the RHS, Thrive, Pershore College and Coventry University I qualified as a horticultural therapist and gardener and have run and managed therapeutic kitchen gardens ever since. I currently manage a community garden in Chichester for Grow Chichester where we run supported gardening sessions for all ages and stages, those with no outside space of their own, mental and physical health issues or those socially isolated. The community garden is a wonderfully supportive and safe space where the harvest is shared between the volunteers, offered to the public and given to the local foodbank and homeless projects.
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic anxiety is sadly rife at this time, but gardening can help, GPs and the NHS have been and continue to prescribing gardening to help with anxiety and depression. The process of connecting with nature, focusing on a gardening task and experiencing the following sense of achievement can be so grounding and really boost our mood and sense of well being.
Being shielded I keep thinking thank heavens this lockdown happened at the start of spring and not winter providing a chance to be outside and garden! It’s no secret that as a person who likes to actively do and achieve, not being able to work for months has been a real challenge. But being able to channel the frustration, anxiety and despondency into growing and developing our new garden as a family has been a lifeline for me. It’s been a joy to potter with our 6 and 4 year olds in the garden over the weeks and to slow down and focus on the small things. Whether it’s bringing the first cut dahlias into the house to brighten up a kitchen table or seeing the children’s joy at their now 8 foot tall sunflowers towering over them. It’s these simple pleasures that mean the most and have such a direct benefit on our wellbeing.
The uncertainty we are faced with currently has the potential to overwhelm and chip away at our security, but nature has provided us with the great escape. No matter what goes on around us the plants and trees still carry on, birds sing like we’ve never heard before, the seedlings tenaciously push up towards the light, buds open and the bees go about their essential daily business. Here is the hope that life carries on regardless and all will be well again.