Lifestyle

How gardening will improve your health and grow your wellbeing

Gardening is not just the latest lockdown trend, it’s far more important than that.

The proven benefits are so extensive that doctors use social prescribing to get their patients involved in gardening projects for the good of their health. Learn more about the health benefits of gardening.

But while it might seem like the whole world has got green fingers - and even greener lawns - for some the idea of growing anything is daunting, and others simply have no outdoor space of their own to plant in. However, with a little creativity, there are ways of getting the same benefits as the keen and convinced gardeners - including growing your own food.

How to get started gardening

Planting in containers is an excellent way to get going as a gardener. Whether your only outdoor space is your window box, or you simply don’t know where to begin, this will ease you into the world of horticulture. With a tiny pot or box, you can start small and, literally, grow your confidence and skill over time. Garden centres have a huge range of containers that will complement your space – however small.

Alternatively, get creative and repurpose any containers into planters. From discarded boots or tin cans to old teapots and empty drawers, an upcycled planter will serve you well. You can move the container to the best spot for its occupants or group them together for impact.

The staff at your nearest garden centre will have plenty of expert advice about which plants will be suitable in the local soil and climate. However, if you can’t visit in person, the internet is the next best thing with gardening advice from sources that range from the National Horticultural Society to bloggers and Youtubers to your local garden centre’s website. Friends and family may also be happy to offer suggestions as well as to donate cuttings to your starter garden.

Your containers could also be home to a vegetable garden bursting with healthy ingredients. The easiest veggies to grow are salad leaves, courgettes, beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Of course, if your space is really limited herbs such as parsley, cress and mint are a tasty addition to any dish. And if multi-tasking appeals, edible flowers such as calendula might appeal.

Grow your own meals

There can be few things more satisfying than serving up a delicious and nutritious meal you have made from ingredients that you grew yourself.

Chilled soups are the perfect summertime food. They are easy to prepare ahead, incredibly healthy and, most importantly, very tasty.

The classic Andalusian favourite, gazpacho, is arguably the leader of the pack and will take you towards your five-a-day target effortlessly. The recipe is very flexible and there are many variants to pick from depending on what’s ripe in your garden.

Classic gazpacho

Ingredients

I cucumber, peeled and chopped

I red pepper, deseeded and chopped

I green pepper, deseeded and chopped

Ikg ripe plum tomatoes (any fresh tomatoes will do)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped

75g stale crusty white bread chopped

2 -2.5 tbsp sherry vinegar (to taste)

2 tbsp olive oil

Chopped basil to serve

Method

1 Place the all the veggies in a large bowl. Add the bread and season well with salt and pepper. Add the sherry vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and mix well. Using your hands is effective as you can squeeze the vegetables of their juices. Cover and chill. Leave for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

2 Blitz the vegetable mixture in a blender until smooth. Check the consistency, if it’s still rather thick add another glug or two of olive oil until you reach a consistency you like. Taste and season if necessary. You may need more vinegar. Cover and chill until you are ready to serve.

3 To serve, stir the soup and check the seasoning. Adjust and serve ice cold and sprinkled with chopped basil. Add ice cubes if you like.

What are the health benefits of gardening?

Gardening isn't just enjoyable, it can be good for you too...

1. Nurturing a social network through gardening

Even without a garden that’s large enough to host a summer gathering, getting the growing bug can give your social life a boost. Allotments are the ideal way to find a community of like-minded people who are contented to share their love of growing things. The National Allotment Society or your local authority will be able to help you with more information.

If there are not allotments available locally, most places have a group of volunteer gardeners who are committed to bringing some greenery to your area. Investigate your local newspapers and noticeboards or enquire at your nearest garden centre.

Seeking out an established community of gardeners will have the additional benefit of introducing you to experts who will be delighted to share their experience and teach you how to become a better grower.

As your expertise grows so will your social network and you might find yourself making a group of friends who are happy to share recipe ideas for the produce that you harvest.

2. Dig your way to happiness

There is now a body of research that shows measurable advantages from gardening to mental health and wellbeing. These range from the way that pausing to smell the roses relieves stress with a scented oxygen blast to the lungs, to the soothing effects of specific plants such as lavender and jasmine.

It’s easy to see how satisfying it is to watch seeds sprout then flourish. Add that to the sense of control and comfort there is to be gain from a task such as weeding or pruning, and you have a recipe for improved mental wellbeing.

Especially when current events are alarming and unpredictable, connecting with the seasons and rhythms of nature provides a grounding sense of safety that has been particularly necessary recently.

3. A sanctuary for the soul

The ultimate garden for serenity is a Zen garden. These are designed to create a place for meditation with raked sand or gravel to represent the see and carefully placed rocks to signify mountains. A few plants will complete the look which is to be appreciated from one viewpoint during meditation.

Mindfulness is a way of achieving similar benefits to those sought by Zen Buddhists. Taking inspiration from Zen gardens, you could create a corner of your garden – or balcony or, even, living room – where the plants you grow give you a focal point for mindful attention to being in the moment and connecting with nature.

4. Reap the benefits of fitness in the garden

There’s no doubt that a stint of energetic digging or mowing will work up a sweat – and give you an excellent workout. However, there are far more physical benefits to gardening than just the cardiovascular exercise. Scientists have shown that regular exposure to fresh air could help generate the bacteria needed to fight off harmful pathogens and bolster your immune system.

Ultimately, while gardening improves the quality of your life in all areas, it also has the potential to increase its length. A study from University College London found that time spent on garden activity helped to cut the risk of early death.

Whatever way you look at it, growing brings you benefits far greater than a blossoming garden or some home-grown veggies. Find a way to discover your green fingers, you won’t regret it.