Gardening – there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Flowers and plants are lovely to look at, and growing our own food is great – but after all, that’s pretty much what we expect from a garden, so what else do we get out of it?

Well, evidence suggests that being out in nature offers us a lot of benefit – but when we can’t scale Everest or go for a fell-run, perhaps our very own gardens and allotments can provide us with some of these benefits.

Studies have suggested that gardening can actually improve our physical, psychological and social health – which has got to be a good thing both in the long and short term. For example, screen time for all of us, be it for work or leisure, can be excessive these days and going into the garden for even a few minutes could just be the little re-boot we need.

If we’re feeling stressed, we need to get away from the cause, and if we are out there gardening, we have to focus on the task in hand making us less likely to be distracted by our worries and more likely to be relaxed by the environment. Gardening, whilst very visual, gives our nose and ears a sensory experience – spreading the sensory load in a way that a screen doesn’t. In fact, it has been suggested that gardening, and its inherent relaxation, can actually reduce cortisol – our main stress hormone – and improve our mood.

Of course, the trick here is to try and keep gardening as a pleasure. Do research, keep things low-maintenance and work within the confines of the seasons to stop the gardening itself from becoming a burden or a stress, and defeating the purpose of being out there in the first place.

Then there’s the exercise aspect of gardening. When we’re weeding, mowing, raking and planting we’re also stretching, bending, using muscles, maintaining flexibility, building strength and of course, burning more calories.

There is the argument that gardening helps to keep us sharp, mentally too. In fact, research supports the idea that mental health interventions based in the garden are on the increase as evidence suggests that they can help to improve mental clarity, increase attention spans and reduce symptoms of anxiety. Not only that, getting out into natural sunlight increases serotonin levels – the hormone responsible for keeping mood regulated – protecting us from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the winter, and melatonin levels – helping us to get a good night’s sleep. Sunlight exposure is also the way that our bodies create vitamin D – essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

The thing with gardening is that there is a practical end result. Growing our own food means we’re highly likely to be improving our diet. Having gone to the trouble of growing it, we’re going to want to eat it and we can’t get much fresher and healthier than gathering fruit and veg from the garden. We’ll probably eat more of it too.

Gardening can even be educational. We can’t help but practice old and acquire new skills and knowledge – and we get a tangible reward – all good for self- esteem and an optimistic outlook.

Nor should we underestimate the canvas gardening gives us on which to be creative. Even if we can’t all be an artist or a musician, when we’re deciding what to plant, where to plant it and why, we’re being incredibly creative.

So, there’s no excuse now. Spring is on the way and the benefits of gardening are immense – we just need to get out there and do it!


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