Horticultural therapy and health
The fact that gardening is beneficial for both physical and mental wellbeing has been known for centuries. Whether you have a window box, a small garden, a large garden or an allotment, being outdoors and working with plants provides the body, and mind, with opportunities to become healthier.
Physical health is improved through movement and the use of muscles needed to execute gardening activities.
Mental wellbeing is improved through the sense of purpose and achievement you get from gardening, as well as just being outdoors and in touch with nature.
Getting your hands dirty has been shown to trigger the “happy hormone” – serotonin. According to research, contact with soil, and the specific soil bacteria, mycobacterium vaccae, leads to an increased release of serotonin in the brain. The most popular result of increased serotonin levels is an upsurge of happiness. A lack of serotonin can sometimes lead to depression.
It has also been demonstrated that the rewards of a good harvest release the feel-good neurochemical – dopamine. This is attributed to our hunter-gatherer ancestors who would enter a state of euphoria when they found food to survive. According to research, dopamine can be released by sight (seeing an edible plant), smell and physically picking crops.
Horticultural Therapy is now recognised as a valid and successful therapy, used for treating individuals with numerous mental illnesses. For some of the reasons explained above, just being outdoors alleviates feelings of depression and anxiety. Simply exposing yourself to sunlight and fresh air can boost your mood.
Children also benefit from time spent gardening. Schools have recognised this and are now including horticulture in the curriculum. Learning life lessons, being in touch with nature and foraging for themselves are just a few benefits of getting children involved.
So there you have it! Activities such as digging, growing, planting, pruning, weeding and harvesting provide a great physical outlet for the relief of stress and are proven to improve your mood.
So what are you waiting for? Get your hands dirty, move those muscles and release those joyous brain chemicals by starting your very own garden…
Whether you are new to gardening or already have an established garden, you will need to think about your pots, plots and landscaping.
If you are starting from scratch, you have a blank canvas. Be as venturous as you like!
If you have inherited a garden or want to make some changes to your own, planning is still important!
September and October are the months when planting and replanting can take place, so mid-summer is a good time to start planning your garden, even if you only have pots and boxes!
Planning your garden entails making sure that all of the right plants are positioned in all of the right environments for them to grow. It also includes making sure you’re happy with the way your garden looks and feels…
Do you want a pretty garden to relax in? Do you want a garden that yields tasty fresh vegetables all year round? Do you want both? Have a think before you go rushing in with your pots and pitchforks!
If you have never planned a garden before, the best way to start is to research the plants you want to grow, plant them and learn from experience. You can tell just by looking at plants which ones are thriving and which ones aren’t. Then you can identify which ones you may need to move or replace.
The key tips here are:
- Understand what sort of garden you want.
- Understand what specific plants you want to grow.
- Research how to grow those specific plants.
- Plant them.
- Learn from experience.
If you need inspiration for your new garden, look no further…
Starting a garden and inspiration
If you are new to gardening there are a lot of inspirational ideas you can gain from television, articles, books, YouTube and, of course, friends!
The UK has a temperate climate which means we can grow a wide range of plants but it also means that the weather can be quite unpredictable; every year has its challenges. That said, challenges are what makes gardening so fun, interesting and fulfilling. Overcoming the unpredictability of UK weather by growing flowers, fruits and vegetables from seed is extremely satisfying; not mentioning the feeling you get when you provide friends and family with fresh, nutritious food.
If you are starting your garden late in the year you might think it will be difficult to grow anything – but not so – turnips, spinach, radish, lettuce and salad leaves, such as rocket and mizuma, can still be sown. Sow thinly in open ground, or in pots or boxes, as they do not need transplanting. There are many interesting variations of mixed leaves available, including Italian, Oriental and Spicy.
Sow lettuce thinly in open trays, or cell trays – 2 seeds in a cell. Lettuce does not germinate in very hot conditions, so put trays in a shady, cool place. They can then be planted in a semi-shady area or under cover. Marvel of Four Seasons is an excellent variety of lettuce for year-round sowing.
You should be able to find vegetable plants like cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks at specialist nurseries which can be planted out, ready for winter and next spring. Obviously these vegetables need more space and are only really suitable for gardens or allotments.
You may be able to find large established plants that can be grown in pots, such as peppers, chillies and cucumbers. These will probably already have vegetables on them so you can get off to a good start! Just make sure you feed them regularly with a tomato or seaweed liquid feed.
Everyone loves herbs! A good way of growing your own quickly is to buy ready-thriving herbs from the vegetable section at your local supermarket. Separate them into bigger pots using good, well draining, compost.
This works particularly well with basil, thyme, parsley, mint and rosemary. They can even be planted in open ground. Make sure you add gravel to the Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary to replicate their origins.
Depending on the time of year you start your garden, it may be too early or late to raise flowering plants from seed. In which case, you may want to visit local garden centres or nurseries. Many of them will have grown plants, like geraniums and gerberas, which you can use to brighten up borders, pots or window boxes. Such plants will flower until the first frosts of the year if you make sure they are well watered and fed once per week with tomato or seaweed feed. It’s also important that you keep deadheading plants (remove flowers from plants when they are fading or dead) to promote new flowers.
Now (July/August) is also the time to sow perennial flowers (those that come up every year) and biennial flowers (those that only flower the year after sowing). There are many online seed suppliers who provide information about different flowers, how they grow, where they grow and when to sow but those of you who are already gardening will know that already…
If you are already starting to grow your vegetables you will probably have tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and chillies. Regardless of whether they have been planted in pots or open ground, continue to feed them once a week with tomato or seaweed liquid feed.
Vegetables like runner beans and courgettes need a lot of water, particularly if rain is scarce. Make sure you get water down to the roots, not just on the surface ground. It might be worth trying for a second crop of French beans, particularly if you have a poly-tunnel or some kind of protection.
If you have established strawberries, put runners (the stem portion of the plant that grows horizontally and can produce buds that develop into new plants) into individual pots so that they can root, but do not cut them away from the mother plant until they have rooted.
Mid-summer is the time to deadhead (remove flowers from plants when they are fading or dead) and cut back perennial (those that come up every year) and herbaceous plants (plants that have no persistent woody stem above ground – mainly herbs) to encourage further flowering.
If you’re looking for a cheap way to add new plants to your garden, it’s time to start propagating…
Obtaining seeds or cuttings from your own, your friend’s or your families plants, is a really cheap and satisfying way of gaining new plants for your garden. It’s also a great way to to build relationships and get into the gardening community!
You can save mature seeds from plants like hollyhock and hardy geraniums for sowing in the autumn. Keep these in an envelope or brown paper bag once fully dry.
Softwood cuttings (material collected from the soft and flexible young shoot tips) can be taken of herbs and small shrubs, like cistus, lavender and rosemary. To take cuttings, cut a piece of healthy stem, around 8 to 12 centimetres long, or pull a sub-stem away from the main stem, leaving a ‘heel’ just BELOW a leaf join. Remove the lower leaves so that there are only 5 or 6 left. It is preferable that the stem has not flowered.
To plant softwood cuttings, put a mix of compost and horticultural sand (or grit) into a small pot, and soak thoroughly. Make small holes around the edge of the pot with a pencil for the cuttings. Make sure they are in firmly! You can leave the pot in a warm but shady place over winter, just make sure they don’t dry out!
In the spring you should be able to tell if they have “taken” by seeing new buds or leaves growing. Another way to tell is by giving the stem a little tug, if there is a bit of resistance then they have probably rooted.
It is likely that not all of the cuttings will have “taken,” but don’t worry, this is normal. The cuttings have to be potted again before planting out. The best way to do this is to water the pot thoroughly, tip it upside down and tap the bottom.
The cuttings should drop without too much damage to the roots. Pot the cuttings into 3 or 4 inch pots, in ordinary compost, and keep watered. You can add some John Innes compost as this is good for shrubs but it’s not essential.
When the cuttings have grown into reasonable sized plants they can be planted out in situ. If you want them to be bigger before you sow them into open ground, pot them again into a slightly bigger pots.
The health benefits of gardening
Involvement in gardening is beneficial to both mind and body and when things go well it is extremely rewarding!
We hope this article has been helpful for you to understand the benefits of gardening and also provided you with some worthwhile tips to develop your garden.
Take on the challenge and do not get disheartened by the unpredictability of nature, in fact cherish it, for its uniqueness is its beauty.
If you have any questions or tips on developing your garden, please use the comments box below or contact us on social media @myhomevitality. We would also love to see your garden images!
The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.
– Alfred Austin