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Everyone is quickly having to adjust to the new normal which is that nothing is normal anymore and nor is it likely to be for some considerable time to come.

Most of us will be confronted with the prospect of staying at home and the challenge of keeping our mental wellbeing on an even keel while we take self-isolating measures to protect our physical health.

There is one resource that can make a proven difference to our health and wellbeing and that 87 per cent of UK households have access to – a garden.

Our gardens are set to become vital places in the face of this extraordinary public health emergency

Damien Newman, Thrive’s Training, Education and Consultancy Manager

Our gardens offer a private space to get outdoors, (individually and according to latest social distancing guidance) get fresh air and connect with nature and all its benefits.

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`Our gardens are set to become vital places in the face of this extraordinary public health emergency,’ says Damien Newman, Thrive’s Training, Education and Consultancy Manager.

`Gardening has benefits for physical and mental health which could make a crucial difference to how people feel as this crisis unfolds.

`As spring arrives, our gardens offer us opportunities for purposeful, meaningful activities that can help sustain us amidst wider uncertainty.’

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Physical benefits

If your usual form of exercise is now off-limits, there are many gardening tasks that can help give your body a workout. As former Thrive Patron and ex-president of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard Thompson, puts it: `There’s a gym outside many a window.’

Digging or forking over a flower or veg bed, for instance, will soon have you working up a sweat and burning hundreds of calories that can help healthy weight management.

The sheer variety of gardening tasks requiring physical movement means most muscle groups will get a workover, and at the same time co-ordination and balance will benefit too.

Just being in sunlight offers an opportunity to top up vitamin D levels, while helping to lower blood pressure.

A person turns the compost in a wooden compost bin

Mental benefits

Being outdoors and connecting with nature, actively or passively, has proven advantages for our wellbeing.

Psychologists have long advocated that nature is a restorative environment offering recovery from mental fatigue.

`Time in gardens can be very diversionary, offering a mental space for thoughts beyond the current situation and the anxiety it causes,’ said Damien. `Gardens slow us down, occupying our minds and offering us benefits akin to mindfulness and meditation without having to learn those techniques.

`The opportunity to nurture plants and support life in the natural world helps us look to the future and feel hope and anticipation of brighter times to come. Plants that are quick and reliable to mature can be good choices right now, salad crops and flowers such as cornflower and nigella, providing a speedier feedback loop to reward our nurturing efforts and re-enforce hope.’

Corn flower Simon Kemp Trunkwell 1 6 07 043
Cornflower - Photo: Simon Kemp/Thrive

Reducing anxiety

We know from people taking part in Thrive’s social and therapeutic horticulture programmes that gardening can improve thinking skills and attentional capacity, while also helping to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Spending time growing vegetables, fruit or flowers offers a positive focus that can result in better mood, self-esteem and confidence, reinforcing personal status and identity.

‘Gardening can help us bring structure to our lives and give us a sense of control when so much is in flux,’ said Damien.

Cultivating Wellbeing in Gardens and Nature

Cultivating Wellbeing in Gardens and Nature is a free-to-access online resource to encourage you to use your garden to spend more time connecting with nature as a tool to restore wellbeing and improve your physical and mental health.

Find out more