Gardening can be hugely beneficial to our mental health. It helps to relieve stress, improve our wellbeing, exercise and release endorphins, helping us to feel happy!
As the days get shorter and the weather colder, it’s important to remember how our gardens and nature in general still have so much offer to help boost our wellbeing, build our resilience and give us all something to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.
Being outdoors in nature is key to our health, wellbeing and happiness. Nothing lifts our mood more effectively than immersing ourselves in nature and that’s never truer than at this time at year.
So get out your boots, get your cosy hat and scarf on and head outdoors for an exhilarating walk on an autumn or winter day. The colours at this time of year can be breathtaking and if the sun is out, you’re in for even more of a treat.
Take the opportunity to practice mindfulness on your walk. Listen to the wind, look up at the sky, watch the leaves as they fall, walk through the rustling leaves, look at the colours and spot all the wonderful things Mother Nature has to offer.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables releases the ‘pleasure chemical’ dopamine into the brain, triggering a state of bliss! This release can be triggered by sight, smell and actually picking the vegetables or fruit. And the good news is that even though winter is fast approaching, there’s still lots we can do to keep our veg plot going.
Crops to harvest in winter include parsnips (which taste better after a frost), kale, Brussels sprouts, leeks, winter cabbages and winter salad. If you didn’t get around to planting winter veg and salad earlier in the year, you can grow pulses indoors, as well as microgreens, ready in just a few days. It’s also thought that folate-rich foods, such as kale, can help lift your morale. So what better way to boost yourself than growing it yourself?
You can also plan and plant for future feasts as garlic, fruit bushes, raspberries and rhubarb can all be planted in winter.
Gardening can foster mindfulness, helping to distract from unwanted or negative thoughts and instead to focus on what’s happening in the moment. It’s also a great way to enjoy some physical activity throughout the autumn and winter months.
Digging and forking your soil can do wonders not just for your future plants and harvest but also for your body. Moderate level activity such as weeding, forking and digging can burn about 300 calories an hour. At the same time you’ll be helping to prevent high blood pressure, the risk of a stroke or heart disease and many other health issues. If you’re physically unable to dig, using hand tools has just as many benefits.
Forking and digging usually takes place in autumn and spring when it’s time to mulch borders and incorporate some well-rotted organic matter to feed the soil.
Vibrant winter containers are worth their weight in gold during the colder months when beds and borders are looking a tad bare.
Bright flowers, vivid berries, evergreen foliage and colourful stems can all be combined to great effect. With the right plants you can create a high-impact but low-maintenance scheme to lift the spirits on even the darkest of days. Winter plants to consider include winter honeysuckle, pansies, winter heather and cyclamen.
Before you plant, remember to make sure your pots are winter ready too. Clay or terracotta pots are prone to cracking in frost, so either avoid using these for your winter displays or look for frost-proof pots and containers. Plastic, fibreglass, wooden and treated terracotta are all good materials for winter pots. Look for pots labelled frost-proof rather than frost resistant which can still crack when temperatures plummet.
Raising pots up by standing them on blocks or pot ‘feet’ over the winter will also allow water to drain away, prevent them becoming waterlogged and help to reduce the risk of frost damage.
Finally position your pots or containers near your house so that you can enjoy them easily.
People can find winter difficult but in the garden it’s an exciting time, full of planning and preparation for what’s to come. Pruning can be a great activity for mindfulness – it’s rhythmic, you have to be aware of your posture, there’s a precision needed to do it well and there's also a sense of achievement.
Winter is the main time to prune many types of fruit, including blackcurrants, apples, pears, autumn-fruiting raspberries, redcurrants and gooseberries. It’s also a good time to tackle trees and deciduous shrubs. Many plants should also be pruned in the winter months including summer-blooming clematis, wisteria and roses.
Pruning in winter encourages flowers and fruit, can encourage a good shape, promotes strong growth and helps to stop disease taking hold.
Learning how our trees, plants and shrubs need to be cared for also helps us appreciate that it’s the same for all of us.