In this blog we are so pleased to have Guest Blogger Paul Lawston share with us his insights into why growing plants is great for mental health.
During the first lockdown the whole world seemed to re-discover two simple pleasures that could be carried out at home and which brought with them a great deal of relaxation and satisfaction. One was baking bread! The other was growing plants: whether you had a garden or just a narrow windowsill inside your flat, people discovered the joy and relaxation of nurturing a living thing and watching it slowly grow.
It has long been generally known that gardening and tending to plants are wonderful ways to relieve stress and improve wellbeing, but this is fast becoming better recognised by science. Connection to nature has proven benefits for our mental health. But this connection has to go beyond simply being outside: the benefits lie in the emotional connections that we form with the natural world, and recognising that we are part of it. Growing and tending to a plant is a perfect activity for forming these bonds: we plant the seed, we water it, repot it and watch it grow. As we tend to the plant we invest in it emotionally and reap a huge reward from that investment.
I know this from experience. Although I don’t have a garden (I live in a flat in London) I was able to grow something during the course of the pandemic – a dragon tree. Planting the seed was probably the most exciting part, pushing it down into the soil and covering it over, not knowing if it would germinate. It took a couple of weeks of watering it sparingly before I got to experience the rush of joy at seeing the seedling push through the soil! As the weeks went by, so my little plant grew and developed, growing bigger and bigger until now it proudly sits in a new pot on the windowsill, with a tight bunch of sharp leaves poking proudly up from its little stem. It’ll take a number of years before it starts to resemble a full-sized tree, but the satisfaction of this little plant, grown during such a tumultuous time, is one that I will always treasure and remember.
It’s these emotional connections that are so important for mental health, and oursenses are crucial for forming them. The feel of the soft damp earth, the excitement when your seedling sprouts, seeing the first flower blooming are all memorable moments that build a stronger connection to the plant itself. There is also a chance to experience other senses that may not be as immediately available in the city. Smell is one of the most important senses when it comes to forming memories: very often we forget to savour the scent of wildflowers in the summer, which are often associated with recollections of childhood.
So why not experience the joy that comes from following the progress of your local wildflowers, as they push through the soil in the winter before growing and blooming in the spring and summer? Planting and growing wildflowers yourself – like ox-eye daisies, red clover or tufted vetch – is an even better way of forming an emotional connection, because it brings the emotional benefits of investing in the plants, but also nourishes the ecosystem, promoting biodiversity. And there is even more joy to be gained from spotting the butterflies and bumblebees that visit these flowers to feed. If you don’t know where to start, seedballs are a really simple way to plant seeds and grow flowers, even on a relatively small patch of ground. Perhaps there’s an overlooked corner near you, just waiting for you to bring it back to life!