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FINDING INNER PEACE | why gardening is great for the soul

Flower seeds in a box

(c) Corinne Walder at @theregencyrenovation 

Time spent in your garden or allotment is like soup for the soul (and actual soup, if you play your cards right). Here’s how getting green-fingered can light up your mind, body and mood levels – in a wellness ritual for the ages. 

You know you’ve entered a new chapter in life when you look outside at the miserable weather (tea in hand, naturally) and instead of thinking, “urgh, rain” your mind chirps, “oh, but it’s good for the garden!”

With the appeal of grow-your-own veg on the rise, more and more of us are embracing the peaty delights of gardening – in a pastime that holds cross-generational allure. Sorting through your pots in the garden shed, or seeing a tomato plant bloom from seed to fruit, brings the kind of deep satisfaction that modern life just can’t rival. 

In fact, it’s perhaps *because* of the frantic beeps and blings of digital-era living that we find such solace in a ritual unmarked by time. Whether you’re collecting seed pods or raking over a fresh patch of soil, gardening is a chance to shun your phone and get knee-deep in the soil. 

Time in your garden, or on an allotment, then, is a kind of therapy. A 2018 paper from the Royal College of Physicians concludes exactly that, noting that gardening “combines physical activity with social interaction and exposure to nature and sunlight”. Here’s a closer look at these life-giving benefits:

    1. Jump around

      Gardening is an inherently physical activity that’ll have you not only jumping (from one muddy patch to another), but also digging, raking or hoeing; all in rapid bursts of activity. It’s surprisingly intense. The simple act of weeding, for example, can easily morph into a full-body workout. Better still, you’ll be immersed in the moment to the extent you may not even notice that you’re breaking a sweat. 

      While research shows that most gardeners are motivated by pleasure, rather than the prospect of improved health, it’s likely that the two elements overlap. Exercise, after all, reduces stress and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins. So, as you’re deadheading hydrangeas, or sweeping up leaves, you’re also reaping the happiness flow that comes from getting moving.

    2. Sun, glorious sun

      Sunlight is a boon for wellbeing, giving you a boost of vitamin D that’s linked to the “happiness hormone” serotonin. You don’t need full-on, tropical vibes for this process to take effect, either. Just mild, milky sunshine (of the kind we’re on first-name terms with in the UK) will do the trick, with exposure to morning sunlight especially good for balancing mood and improving your quality of sleep. 

    3. Nature therapy

      Seedling pots in the sun(c) Corinne Walder at @theregencyrenovation 

      Since we humans evolved in the Great Outdoors, it makes sense that our brains are happiest in nature. We’re simply not built to stare at a computer screen all day, which is why being surrounded by greenery gives us a rare chance to unwind and recalibrate – noticing things we might previously have missed. 

      This effect might be particularly important at a time when many of us are feeling overloaded and fatigued. Getting out in nature encourages “soft fascination”, a type of restorative attention that helps our tired minds recharge. The next time you’re in your garden, notice how your focus is gently drawn to certain details: by tracing a pattern on a tree bark, for example, or witnessing the graceful descent of cherry blossom in the wind. 

    4. Growing friendships

      The relationship between green space and health may be further enhanced by the way in which it inspires social contact, according to this 2009 study from the National Library of Medicine. For many people, gardening – at its heart – is a communal activity, bringing together families, friends or neighbours in shared local spaces. 

      Take Down to Earth Stroud, my nearest gardening collective. It runs a series of community growing schemes in the area to encourage people to grow their own fruit and veg, and reconnect with the land. 

      The beauty of gardening is that you can take or leave the social element as you choose, too. When you’re in the mood for some solace, an hour or two organising your backyard can provide a calming escape. Equally, if you’re feeling a little alone, connecting with fellow gardeners is a great way of forming easy friendships in your local area without too much pressure. It’s a win-win. 

Are you getting out and about in the garden this year? I’d love to hear from you – connect with Object Story on Instagram, and feel free to share your gardening photos.

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