Gardening for health, wellbeing and nature

Could I make the case that you make gardening your go-to pastime for your own health and wellbeing? Perhaps you could set yourself the challenge of taking your first steps in gardening, of growing more of your own food or of creating a haven for beleaguered wildlife. Whatever you choose to do it’s certain to be good for both your physical and mental fitness.

We’ve seen more and more people turning to gardening as a way of escaping the grim news stories and periods of self-isolation that we had to endure. I grant you that during the first period of lockdown in spring 2020, the weather was particularly good and conducive to getting out on your plot. The cold dark days of January and February don’t seem nearly as appealing. But there is so much planning and preparation that can be done, so that you’ll have more time to make it your best-ever gardening season.

What to grow from seed

Ask any green-fingered daughter- or son-of-the-soil, and they’ll tell you that there’s a real sense of excitement and hope to be had from planning what to grow from seed. Sowing should really start with a vengeance in late February and March. The earlier you work out what you want to grow the better, whether it’s vegetables or flowers.

For the complete novice, then seed of hardy annual flowers is a great place to start. In fact it’s how I began growing plants when I was about 4 years old. Packets of candytuft, love-in-a-mist and cornflowers were easy for my chubby fingers to sow. And the seedlings were up and growing in just a few short weeks. Sowing these hardy seeds in pots of compost in a cool room indoors is the perfect way for children to learn how to nurture things. But that doesn’t mean that such seeds aren’t for adults too. If you want things that are easy to grow, won’t break the budget and give a stunning show of colour in summer, then opt for any seeds that have ‘HA’ (hardy annual) on the back of the seed packet. There’s a huge range of these available and you can even sow them direct into the soil outdoors in early spring. And they don’t need pots, compost or complicated kit.

So that provdes two simple resolutions to start with that might suit you: ‘to get children growing’ or ‘to take the plunge and start gardening’ yourself. In both cases you’ll discover that the fascination for nurturing and growing will quickly take root. This is the ultimate in developing the art of ‘mindfulness’ which is so fashionable at the moment.

Grow your own healthy food

Another place where you might cheerfully ‘lose yourself’ is in the veg plot or up at the allotment. Plots in my own Dorset village certainly proved their worth in 2020 and had never looked so good. The honest sweat and toil that went into them during the first lockdown clearly paid off. It not only kept waistlines in trim but produced healthy, homegrown produce with no food miles. Added to this were the less obvious benefits of the social interaction involved (albeit at a responsible distance). But most of all it provided the opportunity to focus on something other than the stresses and strains of the world. Grow-your-own offers a real sense of the Good Life.

That then, has given us another potential resolution: ‘to grow more things to eat’. Let’s face it, growing our own food locally is one way in which we can not only tackle climate change, but also forge an essential reconnection with the natural world of which we are part.

How to garden for wildlife

And that brings me on to my last suggestions of how to make a difference by your actions: ‘to do things to help wildlife’. Britain’s gardens have been shown to provide an essential haven for birds, mammals, insects and a whole host of organisms that make up a fantastic patchwork of life. In fact, some experts have suggested that our home plots form our largest, unofficial ‘National Park’, with much more diversity than our nation’s wild and rural environments.

Providing food and clean water for the birds or creating a wildlife pond are a great way to help in your own garden. But you could also try adding a log pile for hedgehogs and overwintering insects, and growing nectar-rich flowers for pollinators. But our own individual efforts are only really beneficial when they are scaled up across whole neighbourhoods. This creates large habitats, involving fellow gardeners working together, talking across fences and co-operating.

Many of us came to appreciate the bird song during the 2020 lockdown. We also found time to develop an interest and fascination with other forms of wildlife and aspects of the natural world. And such connections undoubtedly brought with them a sense of peace and continuity in an otherwise uncertain world.

So give yourself something to look forward to and nurture your natural side for your own health and wellbeing.

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