Blustery Gales & Nodding Daffodils
March heralds a month of blustery gales and nodding daffodils; it is the month where the hours of daylight will equal, then exceed the hours of darkness. It brings in the first signs of spring: the banks beneath York city walls bloom yellow and our village greens abound with dancing daffodils. There is a sense that life is on the move again.
For some of us, gardening is more than just a pastime – it’s a way of keeping fit, of remaining sane in difficult times, of keeping in touch with the outside world of seasons, weather, food, when so much of our lives are otherwise sealed off inside offices, cars or on screens. The physical side of gardening is fantastic for, well, keeping fit. Did you know that clearing the garden and raking leaves burns 400 calories an hour; mowing the lawn uses up to 300 calories and weeding or planting flowers burn up 200 – 400 calories? Even watering your plants gives you 120 calories according to various healthcare statistics. What’s not to love about that? And why is that? As any gardener knows, all that bending, twisting, lifting, carrying actions strengthen the back (provided you bend at the knee of course); reaching to prune, lift or clip hedges tones the upper arms, as well as your core muscles; digging, pushing wheelbarrows or squatting to weed, helps build up your quad and thigh muscles as well as your abdominals; sweeping and raking or spreading compost helps tone all muscles. And because it is such a physical activity, gardening naturally helps strengthen the heart, building endurance and increasing stamina, thus reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. So, there you have it – no need for that expensive gym membership or fitness instructor.
However, there’s another important benefit of gardening: the mental health element. There are many studies out there showing that gardening reduces depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress. How is that? Well, part of it is plain and simple interaction with nature. Even in the unpredictable, often cold, days of March, going outside, walking around, potting something up or planting something out is doing something positive which helps lift the spirits a fraction. Science Direct did a study which showed that a decrease in contact with nature resulted in a number of health and behavioral problems, especially for children, which constitutes what they call a ‘nature-deficient disorder’. They suggest that daily contact with nature has a long-lasting and deep impact on health, including on depression and anxiety symptoms (March ‘17). Amazingly, the Royal College of Physicians in their June 2018 Clinical
Medicine journal suggest that health professionals should reduce the pressure on the NHS by encouraging their patients to make use of green spaces and to work in gardens. Furthermore, they should pressure local authorities to increase open spaces and the number of trees.
Working on an allotment or in a community garden can alleviate isolation by giving a sense of belonging and providing a common purpose and sense of achievement, so if you have no garden this can be a really great way of connecting with nature and other people.
Gardening is also a source of comfort. I have designed many gardens for people nearing the end of their lives, or in memory of others who have passed on. In my experience, gardening can be a healing process. For those who want to remember someone, a garden is a living, renewing reminder that life goes on and somehow the nurturing process helps people through their difficult times. All in all, gardening is a holistic way of keeping healthy, in mind, body and spirit.