Engaging in any kind of creative behaviour is known to improve our brain function, and in some cases our overall health. These sorts of absorbing activities that we enjoy doing give us a nice big hit of feel-good hormones, so doing things like listening to music, writing, painting, knitting or gardening, can help us to feel uplifted and free our minds of internal chatter for a while.
Spending time in a green space seems to have so many benefits for us health-wise. Being outdoors – whether its exercising, growing flowers and food, or being with animals – is proven to enhance our psychological and physical condition.
Recently many people were pulled away from their hectic lifestyles due to the Covid Pandemic, finding life slowing down to a pace undemanding enough to find time to devote to their own gardens. Some even growing their own veggies and herbs. Provenance of food has never been so important to us as it is now. As communities, we’re embracing more naturally farmed produce and the feeling of satisfaction we get from feeding our loved ones with home-grown or locally produced food is satisfying our need for security and safety.
There could well be other forces in play, steering us to find joy in the outdoors. Regularly experiencing the wonders of nature has a soothing effect on us, benefiting individuals cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Through positive distractions like gardening, we’re able to focus on the now, taking a mental break from our ‘monkey-mind’, which jumps from one thought to another like a monkey swinging through the trees from branch to branch. Not only that, but gardening needs us to be physical, using our muscles and moving around in natural light and fresh air.
Horticultural or Eco Therapy is a practice that benefits the health and wellbeing of people through garden-based participatory interventions. It has been used for decades and applied in various forms all over the world. Organisations like Thrive, based here in the UK, use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities and ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged, or vulnerable.
Being outside in natural light can help with things like winter blues and seasonal disorders. Fresh, clean air is great for our immune systems, but of course it’s not always possible to spend long periods of time outdoors, so it’s worth thinking about bringing nature inside. Nurturing plants indoors is just as rewarding in terms of creativity. Flowers, plants and herbs can be grown on windowsills, still providing a daily connection to nature.
You could even create a garden in jar. Called a terrarium, it is like an aquarium, but for plants instead of fish. It can be set up in any kind of glass container, planted to look like a miniature garden or forest enclosed in it’s own little world. They are self-nourishing and need little maintenance.
For residents in care home settings, particularly those who are new to the home, who may be feeling displaced and detached from this new rhythm and routine placed upon them, helping to care for plants can offer a familiar routine and a sense of belonging, forming new roots for themselves symbolically. If their care home has a garden, they might like to look at flowers that remind them of their own gardening days, with their favourite flowers in bloom. Our vista does influence our feelings. Hospital patients are said to recover much more quickly with an outside view according to studies.
It’s not just a garden that is a gift that keeps on giving. Animal assisted therapy is now a common part of life in a care home. As humans, we have an emotional affiliation to other living things. Dogs and other animals – just like gardens – are non-judgmental. The more joyful, loving energy we devote towards them, the more it reflects back on us.
Nature-based interactions can help with depression and anxiety, increase self-esteem and confidence, energise us, and heal us. Healing gardens are associated with healthcare facilities and offer places of refuge for residents, visitors, and employees alike.
From horticulture, feeding the bees and watching out for wildlife, to the smallest of connections to nature like looking at a garden full of colour and vitality or looking up at the mountains and sky, we can take in the beauty, wonder and continuity of life every single day.