National Growing for Wellbeing Week

June 3rd– June 9th 2019

I’ve always been a keen gardener, even when it wasn’t trendy for a twenty something city girl to be sporting wellies instead of high heels and messing about knee deep in a vegetable patch. Since before I can remember gardening has always been my therapy. To this day I find growing things deeply satisfying. Food that you have grown yourself tastes different in the mouth and stimulates chemicals in the brain that are pleasing. I have always found my time in the garden to be both a great pleasure and a complete distraction from my working life. In a world of numbers, meetings and the busy hum of offices there is something innately calming about plunging your hands into the earth, planting something from seed and watching it grow.

For me gardening is the perfect antidote to a hectic life that seems to be increasingly dominated by social media and technology, it’s a simple way of claiming back my place on this earth, of re-establishing a connection with my roots. More than that I can feel my mood lifting and my stress levels dropping. I know that I am not alone in this, my late father also used gardening as his “soulful time” as he called it- time for clear blue thinking.

Recent studies have highlighted the many health benefits of gardening which include improved confidence, communication, concentration and ultimately self-belief. A 2015 study by the Universities of Westminster and Essex has shown that if you spend 30 minutes a day tending to your vegetable patch you will boost your wellbeing and mental health. Of course not everybody has the luxury of a garden but herbs, salad leaves, broad beans, chillies, beetroot and mushrooms to name but a few can all be grown indoors. Research has demonstrated that even tending to a pot of oregano on your windowsill or a planter of tomatoes on your balcony can reduce stress, depression and anxiety as well as improving your overall fitness.

Getting involved with growing your own, even in a small way, can help to give you a sense of responsibility, having to focus on the care of a living thing and to nurture it can make you feel at one with the world and help to overcome feelings of self- absorption. The British Medical Journal advises that gardening can help to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke and can even prolong life by as much as 30% in the over 60’s. It’s easy to see why this might be as even a little light gardening constitutes a form of gentle exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, making us feel satisfied and relaxed. Regular exercise also aids with sleep, weight loss and general self- esteem and spending time outdoors increases our Vitamin D intake.

Surrounding oneself with nature, flowers and grass can help to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body and stimulates the sensory system with the various colours, smells and textures that abound. Additional benefits also include increased muscle building and a decrease in the risk of osteoporosis and dementia. Even tending to a modest vegetable patch will ensure that you are eating seasonally and therefore benefitting from nutrient rich produce at the very peak of its freshness.

There really is a massive sense of achievement in watching a plant you have nursed from a tiny seed or seedling blossom, flourish and produce fruit. I am reminded of this every time I pluck a cherry tomato straight from the vine and pop it into my mouth, still warm from the sun and bursting with flavour. I find it equally rewarding to toss a sprig of home grown rosemary in with the Sunday roast. Even better, if you’re thinking of dipping your toe in the water on a small scale, growing your own produce is relatively inexpensive. Packets of seeds are great value and seedlings can often be purchased very cheaply- I recently acquired 6 tomato plants for the princely sum of £2.00 from a table outside a neighbours house.

I do hope that my passion for this wonderful and rewarding pastime and the advent of the balmy summer months will inspire some of you to get planting or digging- it really is most fulfilling and hugely beneficial to one’s health. By way of inspiration I’ve included my delicious recipe for a butter bean and parsley dip- it’s super simple and the flavours will transport you to the Mediterranean. Happy planting!

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