Garden for Your Health

It’s happened on three occasions this year already; the phone has rung and a potential customer has mentioned very early in the conversation, they need to garden for their health. That is their mental health. Yes, physical health is important and most would acknowledge that gardening is at times, fairly physical. However Mental Health and Well-being are equally important. There is still some hesitancy, but we are getting better about talking about our psychological needs.

‘Well-being’ is defined as being in a state of happiness and healthiness.

With respect to gardening and garden design over the last few years several Chelsea show gardens have highlighted mental well-being. See:

The Chelsea Flower Show signposts the latest design and gardening trends. The message eventually filters through, even to Yorkshire, and forms part of the brief for a garden design.

Most gardeners like to garden. They love the plants. The landscaping elements come second, but if these are failing they become a cause of frustration. Valuable time is wasted weeding between pavers, or walking the long way round because the path isn’t wide enough. The gardener gets frustrated, loses interest and the garden falls into disrepair. This is because most gardens are not designed. We often live with an inherited set up that belonged to the previous owner. The garden develops organically and some poor plant choices and materials are tolerated and may blind the customer to any alternatives. This is where the garden designer can help.

For me the first stage in a design is a clean piece of paper. Certain garden features will remain, particularly trees. The garden designer will listen to requests for saving a plant or particular structure but if it severely compromises the design then it may be politely ignored. Sometimes I have to make a vigorous defence of some of my design decisions, but when all the requirements for a garden are in the mix then the magic can begin.

When considering gardens for health and well-being, I routinely use some design features. The logical placement of paths, sheds, patios and seating allows the customer to move through the garden, and sit and enjoy the space in carefully selected sheltered spots.

The construction of raised beds allows a gardener to continue gardening and makes maintenance simpler. Plants are brought ‘up close and personal’ allowing more of an immersion in their amazing features.

Water features or ponds, if they can be accommodated, deliver so much to the garden user. They attract birds and wildlife, create reflections and movement and also may offer gentle distracting noise.

I love gardening. It allows me to breath. I am ‘in the moment’ and distractedly will move from one activity to the next enjoying the plants, the growing, the creating, the birds, the light, the weather -up to a point anyway. This is a form of mindfulness. That engagement with the soil and nature is my particular antidote to the stresses of the day.

However you don’t have to be the gardener. Sitting within a well designed garden space and focussing on the plants, their colour, form and structure can distract us from our worries. Surrounded by plants, this becomes the area for the contemplation of nature and mindfulness. It may be the movement of the leaves, playing across the light and the accompanying sound, which catches our attention. Scent impacts those deepest parts of our brain linked to memory and emotion. Dementia sufferers can be significantly helped by gardens designed with their needs in mind.

Increasingly gardens are recognised as offering so much more to improve our health and well-being. Gardens and gardening may form part of a prescription for health where a health provider can prescribe Green therapy.  Even the over stretched NHS is recognising the need to support patients and their workers. See .

It is the plant world, their care and nurture as well as their sensory impact, that can bring us contentment and peace of mind.

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