Exploring the therapeutic power of gardening

According to one study, an overwhelming 88% of us head out into the garden to help improve our mental wellbeing, while another revealed over 80% of us feel happier after visiting gardens. But what therapeutic benefits can gardening have? And how can we make the most of them? We explore seven simple ways getting back to nature and spending a little quality time in our gardens (or with our window boxes and favourite indoor plants) can help boost well-being.

1. Improve your physical and mental health – gardening can have a surprising impact on our overall health and well-being. Along with encouraging a healthier lifestyle, gardening offers a range of physical benefits that can help you maintain mobility, burn calories and, over time, strengthen your bones, muscles and joints.

Gardening can also have positive results for those with arthritis; with the help of an occupational therapist, you can discover ways that gardening can play an important role in helping keep up your levels of physical activity whilst directing you towards the right tools and techniques you can use to avoid causing pain. Arthritis Research UK offers some great tips and self-help advice specifically for gardeners.

As Thrive explains, research shows gardening can help improve communication, learn new skills, boost confidence, and increase concentration for those who may be experiencing ill mental health. Regularly caring for your garden can help create a new structure within your life, offering more opportunities to meet new people whilst giving you a greater sense of achievement as you watch your plants flourish.

2. Boost your mood with natural sunlight – we’ve all heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it can be easy to forget that natural sunlight can have a positive effect on our moods even if we don’t experience SAD ourselves. Spending time outside, basking in natural sunlight can help trigger the release of serotonin, a mood stabilising hormone that can help us feel more positive and productive.

Spending time outside tending to your garden, allotment or window boxes can be a great way to combat feelings of depression. It can also help stimulate the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone, meaning it can encourage a naturally better night’s sleep.

Close-up of a hand holding a lavendar plant, witing to be planted in the garden3. Bring a touch of mindfulness to your routine – mindfulness can have a surprising impact on our mental health and overall sense of well-being. The term mindfulness refers to a specific way of paying attention to what is happening in the moment, rather than allowing all of the pressure and everyday stresses to cloud our thoughts. Helping particularly to combat feelings of anxiety and depression, mindfulness can help reduce stress, insomnia, and has even been proven to have benefits for those experiencing addiction and chronic fatigue syndrome.

While you can work with a mindfulness counsellor to help incorporate the practice into your life, there are plenty of ways you can begin introducing the habit into your daily routine. Focusing all of your senses on your plants as you care for them can be a good way to connect with the moment. Focus as you touch the soil to see how dry it is and check the leaves for damage. Try clearing your mind as you water, weed, and care for your plants.

The flowers you tend to can also have additional benefits. A geranium flower essence is known for giving focus, whilst lemongrass can help calm your mind and thoughts. Exploring the different benefits of various flowers can have added benefits, helping you to feel more calm and peaceful.

4. Discover the benefits of herbalism – used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years, herbalism can offer a holistic approach to certain illnesses and conditions, treating the underlying condition rather than the symptoms alone. Working with a professional herbalist can be one of the safest and simplest ways to get into herbalism and better understand the positive effects it can have.

Once you have begun speaking with an experienced herbalist, there are a number of ways you can benefit from herbalism at home. Growing and tending your own aloe vera plants can be a great first step. Offering soothing effects, aloe vera can be great for treating minor cuts, sunburn, insect bites, as well as dry or chapped skin. Lavender can be another simple plant to try. Thought to help ease insomnia, reduce irritability, and relieve pain, lavender can be harvested during the summer and dried or infused with oil to prolong its healing benefits.

Close-up of lavendar being dried in a bowel on a white, clean table

5. Gain a sense of achievement – the more care, consideration and time you put into tending your plants, the greater your sense of achievement will be. As you watch your garden grow and thrive based on your hard work and dedication, you can feel a sense of accomplishment in a low-pressure setting. If you struggle with confidence or motivation, this can act as a catalyst to help you improve across other areas of your life.

6. Explore western herbal medicine – combining ancient methods of traditional medicine with modern scientific knowledge, western medical herbalism, also known as phytotherapy, has grown in popularity over recent years. Medical herbalism practitioners use the whole plant in its natural form to help heal both the body and mind. A type of complementary therapy, practitioners take a holistic approach rather than illness-focused.

While seeing a professional, experienced herbalist is advised, there are a number of beneficial, medicinal herbs you can grow in your garden. Southern Ginseng leaves can be used to help alleviate anxiety and stress, helping lower high blood pressure and cholesterol. Stinging nettles, once cooked or dried, can provide high levels of minerals and vitamins that are thought to be beneficial for those with allergies or arthritis.

A neon sign saying breathe is nestled amidst leaves7. Start a sustainable self-care routine – self-care has become somewhat of a popular buzzword when it comes to well-being, but what does self-care actually mean? Essentially referring to looking after ourselves and our own mental and physical health, it’s easy to dismiss self-care as something that is ‘nice to have’ or that we’re ‘too busy’ to do. Self-care is an essential part of looking after our own well-being, learning to identify our needs, and starting to take the steps to meet them. Looking after ourselves shouldn’t be our last priority.

Caring for a garden or indoor plants can provide you with a positive, gentle reminder to practice self-care. By getting in the habit of checking on your plants and looking after them, you can really ground yourself and start appreciating the moment as it happens. Not only that but it can also act as a physical reminder of the impact a little care and attention can have in helping you (and your plants) to flourish.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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