Gardening is one of the first of the activities to try which I have no former experience of. I have never been green fingered and it has never struck me as a particularly stress busting experience. However I asked for recommendations and as 49.5% of adults report gardening as an activity in their free time (see the gardening report linked below for this and other garden based statistics), I decided to give it a go.
Why it might be relaxing:
- Evidence shows that gardening is related to both physical and mental well being. There are links with confidence, self esteem and resilience. A study in 2011 tested the effects of gardening after inducing stress in participants. They found that 30 minutes of gardening lead to lower levels of cortisol (a stress related hormone) was found in participants saliva and they reported being in a better mood when compared to reading.
- Gardening involves a fair amount of physical exercise, so one can expect to gain some of the same relaxation benefits as any physical activity provides (this will be covered in more detail when I get to an exercise post).
- Gardening can a creative activity and one which can lead to visible and gratifying results.
- It is an activity which people of a wide range of ages and abilities can engage with – whether it’s a small window box or a huge estate you’re working with.
My gardening endeavour took place at my sister’s house. She has a smallish garden at the back of a house in London, which all but backs on to a motorway. They have a lovely little dog and what with summer coming up she wanted to tidy the garden a little bit to make it a nice outdoor space. I joined my mum and gran on the journey to London to help her with this. Having spent the previous day staring at my phone willing it to ring with the results of a job interview I definitely needed to get out of the house. Of the four of us I have had the least experience with gardening, having never been struck by the urge to weed or plant flowers. Most plants I have had any responsibility for have died a slow and painful death – particularly the poor flower I gave orange juice to when I was younger, in an attempt to save it the effort of photosynthesising its own sugars.
I put myself to work pulling up the things that I had been told were not wanted. This, I think, was my favourite part of the whole experience. It was very cathartic and seeing quick progress was satisfying. I also gathered up bundles of leaves and broken bits of crockery left the by the previous tenants. I also encountered my fair share of dog poo lurking under the leaves. This I enjoyed less. At some point in my digging I unearthered a lovely big bee. This was actively stressful for a moment as I rehoused it, worrying about hurting it or it stinging me. It did live to tell the tale and later safely buzzed off about its bee business. I weeded and shuffled leaves about for about an hour and a half. The fresh air, activity and being around my family all were very enjoyable things which did help my mind feel a bit calmer and more rested. When I eventually received the phone call from the employer I was able to digest their feedback in a much more settled way than if they’d called the day before.
But was the gardening itself relaxing? For me, not particularly. It was satisfying clearing leaves and the progress we had made by the time we stopped was pleasing. However, I wouldn’t say that I found that activity itself relaxing or stress busting. Possibly this is because it was a one off, or that it wasn’t my garden so I was not involved in making the decisions about which flowers to plant. Perhaps it was the dog poo or the dirt under my nails. But mostly I found that it just didn’t really grab my interest. After an hour and a half I did find myself making excuses to do other things, calling people or making cups of tea. I just wasn’t engaged with the task.
Overall I can really understand how for some people this would be a relaxing task. Particularly if it is your own garden that you design and build up over the months and get to reap the rewards in summer. My understanding is that my sister’s garden is a work in progress and will start to look more picturesque than it does in my photos as the weather warms, all of which is an important part of the process that I didn’t necessarily capture. As mentioned above, being in the fresh air was relaxing, as was being around my family and being engaged in activity, but I wasn’t left with the feeling that I wanted to do it again or that the gardening itself had relaxed me.
More relaxing: For me I think I could have reaped all the benefits from going for a walk through a nice park, especially if I’d had the dog with me, rather than scrabbling about trying to avoid its poo. However, if gardening is your thing I think having your own project would really be the best. That way you can get invested in the growth of plants, design which bits of the garden you want blooming at which time and generally build a lovely space for yourself. I also think for me the wild life side of things is more gripping and if I did have my own space I would be looking at bird feeders or bird baths, and flowers that encourage bees and butterflies.
More practical: Tending a small window box or some indoor plants might be a good way to start being interested in gardening, especially if you don’t have access to a garden of your own. Alternatively, I’m reliably informed that there are beautiful gardens in many national trust sites, and I have attached a link below to the National Garden Scheme where thousands of private gardens around the country are opened for charity. What could be more practical than a leisurely stroll around after someone else has done the hard work?