Last Saturday night my friend Sabrina Hahn and I were the guest speakers at RE-LEAF a Sundowner hosted by Guildford Town Garden Centre. We were there to raise much-needed funds for Beyond Blue which “is the national initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression, providing resources for recovery, management and resilience.” This very worthy cause is close to my heart.
We both shared some of the obvious reasons why being in the garden is so important for one’s physical and mental health, such as getting into the outdoors, sunshine on our skin, exercising, breathing fresh air and connecting with the earth.
Home Gardening for many of us living in an urban setting provides the only regular and very convenient opportunities for us to connect with nature. It could be in a park, in a home garden or on an apartment balcony. We might dig a hole and plant something in pot or perhaps dig a bigger hole and plant a tree into the ground and as we do so, a creature may emerge from the soil like a worm or a small lizard, a bird may come down and feast on the slaters we disturb, anything can happen, we are not in control of the magic or the possibilities. It’s unpredictable. Sufferers of depression describe being in a deep dark hole and having difficulty getting out. Gardening provides us with the opportunity to take things into some perspective and “consider that we are but a small part of something much bigger than us.” said my old mate, Sabrina Hahn. Being in nature and surrounding yourself with trees and plants makes you feel good. Gardening gives you purpose because you are actually connecting with nature and creating something.
It doesn’t always have to be arduous work, sometimes a cup of tea need be your only tool, as you wander around your garden plants, tea in hand, you notice things that you would not otherwise do, you take time out of your busy day to just be, to hear the birds, watch the bugs and see the bees at work. You are connecting with nature. The satisfaction one gets from growing edibles on a small-scale can also be incredibly satisfying. There is nothing more joyous that watching a deciduous tree change and grow through the seasons.
Sabrina talked about the importance of “playing” in the garden-unstructured play as an adult is a rare thing these days and almost never happens. Usually, as adults we participate in organised sport, go to the gym or exercise to a regime but gardening provides us with an opportunity for unstructured “play” as adults which no other recreational activity can do.
Creating a big garden, a new little bed, rejuvenating potted plants, planning next seasons vegetable patch or planting new annuals requires thought and imagination as well as execution. This is all part of the activity required in order to create something within our gardens and it’s fun-it is as we did as children-playing.
In the privacy of your yard, it’s completely OK to sit in a hammock or an oversized swing and swing away but may be frowned upon if you suddenly pushed little Jimmy aside and hopped onto the swing at the local park-but you can happily do this in your own garden and just move gently and be at one with nature as it comes willingly to visit you in your garden space that you have created. We have a swinging chair on our back deck and it provides peace and motion for me but also I note of late for our growing teenagers after a hard day at school.
Playing in the garden may involve squirting someone with a hose on a sunny day, laughing as you try to pull out a stubborn weed and fall backwards onto the lawn or just enjoying all of the non-human visitors as they flit here and there while you are doing your “work” so are they doing theirs.
Gardening is a very personal thing-no two gardens will ever be the same because nature simply would not allow two spaces to be identical-we as landscape designers and garden owners can only but stir the urban forest in which we live and make our own little contribution and hopefully make things a little bit greener, our environment healthier and a perhaps a little bit more beautiful.
Let’s face it most of us have very busy lives, too busy really, gardening for us city dwellers helps us re-set the crazy clock by which our lives are programmed and just get a bit dirty and be part of nature and helps us to re-connect the soul to the earth for a little while. Gardening helps keep things in perspective-it’s as important for us adults as it is for our children as we work towards more nature play for them at schools and in parks-we need to do the same for adults-it’s just as important for our mental health as it is for our physical well being.
If you know someone who is suffering with mental health concerns then Beyond Blue is a great place to seek assistance. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/