Being made redundant is never part of the plan, but it can also be an opportunity to take a breath and indulge in some ‘me-time’. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a language or read that book that’s been gathering dust on the bookshelf? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to try your hand at gardening. Here’s why that might be a positive idea.
Sometimes, when I’m very down, it seems that only one thing can help: working in the garden or the allotment.
When all my other coping strategies fail – when I feel too unfocused to practice mindfulness and too tired to go for a run – working with the soil almost always helps.
I may start digging with my thoughts churning, but turning a fork in my hands and pulling weeds and grass from the earth gradually calms them, leaving me more at peace.
I’m grateful for the garden space at my home, it’s a great privilege to have when I find myself struggling.
In this article I’ll be looking at the benefits of gardening and how it’s helped me personally, while also considering some gardening alternatives for anyone whose home doesn’t contain an outdoor area.
Why get into gardening?
Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well Gardened Mind, suggests that working with the soil: “gives you quiet, so you can hear your thoughts.”
Stuart-Smith’s book tells how the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who grew his own vegetables, felt modern life had alienated us from the “dark, maternal, earthy ground of our being”.
He also believed that “every human should have a plot of land so that their instincts can come to life again.”
Judging by the sales boom in the UK’s recently-reopened garden centres – and a surge in interest in gardening overall – the current lockdown measures have led to a renewed passion for working with the soil.
It’s too late in the season to plant – say – tomatoes from seed, but you can still look forward to eating them this summer if you get hold of ready-grown plants and some compost.
You can also start growing loads of vegetables from seed now, for eating this autumn and next spring.
Cabbage, sprouts, spinach, chard and cauliflower are amongst the tasty late starters that we still have time to plant – and they can help us to look to the future with a little more hope.
Increase in demands for gardening
The trade website Horticulture Week reported that “Garden centres are seeing pent-up demand for plants and compost lead a sales boom after almost two months of being closed.”
The Guardian said one seed supplier had seen a six-fold increase in orders compared to a year ago, while the Royal Horticultural Society website experienced a 500 per cent rise in requests for advice during the lockdown.
The wellbeing benefits of gardening
People have been showing interest in more than the end product of gardening. As one early garden centre shopper admitted: “Gardening helps me to deal with things.”
The word ‘paradise’ originally relates to the Persian meaning for an enclosed or cultivated space. It’s understandable that at a time of such uncertainty and unease, so many of us are seeking our little bit of paradise in the soil.
In many respects, working in a garden or allotment is a great activity to boost wellbeing over this coming period.
Not everyone will have access to a garden or allotment, in which instance houseplants, hanging baskets and window boxes may help as an alternative.
How gardening helps me
On an 80-square metre plot like ours, there’s plenty of room to social distance and still chat to neighbours while enjoying nature.
Excitingly, we are just starting to harvest things: broccoli has finished, but little artichokes are best eaten now and our asparagus is already in glut. Soon, we’ll have strawberries, garlic, beans, and blackcurrants to bring home.
Growing our own will also help us cut down on trips to the shops, where narrow aisles can make social distancing more difficult.
Another reason that gardening is particularly soothing for my family at the moment is that it helps us take a longer view, even while living at a time when things are changing rapidly from hour to hour, or day to day.
Planning, planting, watering and harvesting crops shows that some things in life are more enduring than the current news cycle.
As Stuart-Smith says: “seeds have tomorrow ready-built into them”.
They remind us that there is a future, and that some good can come of it.
Many of us may not have access to a garden or an allotment, but if you’ve got space for a window box or a hanging basket, you can still grow something.
If these options aren’t available to you, then an online garden may help offer some similar wellbeing benefits.
The journalist and gardener Olivia Laing reported at the start of lockdown on how gardeners around the world had taken to Instagram to share their paradises and soothe others.
“I follow dozens of them,” she wrote, “and nothing has made me feel so connected or rooted as looking at these green bulletins, snapshots from an otherwise very troubled and terrifying world.”
Games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, which provide the experience of virtual gardening, may also help bring some of the wellbeing boosts that gardening holds.