Abi harvesting beans and smiling at camera
How gardening can bring you back from the brink of despair.

Gardening’s mood-boosting power is well known as a useful tool to beat depression and improve mental health, particularly at this time of year, with shorter daylight hours, less sunshine and colder weather on the horizon.

At Thrive we use social therapeutic horticulture (STH) to help people with their physical and mental health and Mental Health Awareness Day (10th October) helps shine a spotlight on our 40-year crusade to get more people gardening.

Training and Education Manager Damien Newman, explained, “If we spend time in a green environment then we reduce stress and improve mood, get the opportunity to be active and we also feel as if we are making a positive contribution to those around us, giving and connecting to others. So, to garden and spend time in nature is great for mental health.”

Abi Garvey, from Hagley, near Hereford couldn’t agree more. A mother of one, she has a diagnosis of complex PTSD and trauma-based anxiety from childhood, “I didn’t grow up in a very stable home, it was like walking on eggshells, I’ve had all the therapy going and been in some dark bad places over the years and hadn’t been able to get over things my brother and I went through as children and teenagers. But being outside was my retreat; because when I spend some time in my garden, I’m stepping out of the things that have gone on, I’m not the in the past. It’s my sanctuary.”

Abi wheelbarrow 1
Abi pushing a wheelbarrow at her allotment

It was an outreach session run by our Birmingham centre that caught Abi’s eye, “They were doing some sessions at my son’s school and I thought what they were teaching was amazing. Gardening gets you out of your negative headspace. It’s being outside and working with the soil, with its anti-depressive qualities, and having something to nurture.

Abi has been helping Thrive develop an Information Service on our website called Get Gardening to allow people in their gardens to access free information on their phones or another device.

“The info service is very structured and it feels fully inclusive. I struggle and it’s nice to know that there are other people out there using this service.

I’m not bumbling around my allotment on my own with PTSD and anxiety, I know there are other people accessing this service, it feels as though I have a gardening friend in my hand.

Abi using information service on mobile and pruning
Abi using the Get Gardening information and pruning

It’s no surprise to Sarah Bowers, who’s Thrive’s Birmingham regional centre manager, “Social interaction with fellow green-fingered people is one of the main joys of gardening.

Sharing experiences on allotments or community gardens with like-minded people and having that sense of something in common improves wellbeing and confidence.”

For Abi, gardening has had a life-changing effect on her mental health; “My flight and fight response is so calm when I step into my garden, I don’t feel anxious anymore, I feel the weight fall off my shoulders.”

Share your story

We love hearing about how your gardens and our Thrive advice have helped support your wellbeing. If you would like to share your story, email info@thrive.org.uk

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