Five tips for improving mental health through gardening

The garden at the Royal Bethlem has helped thousands with mental health issues

The Bethlem Royal Hospital is raising funds to help its patients recover from severe mental illness in the calming environment of their therapy garden.

Under this year’s Big Give appeal, which runs from December 1 to 8, every £1 raised by the hospital will be doubled through match-funding.

The project is urging everyone to connect with nature – whether you have your own garden or visit a local park. Here are five top tips for improving your mental health through connecting with nature, based on the New Economic Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Connect with other people

Give a hand on the land in your local community garden, allotment or just try some guerilla gardening in neglected areas of your neighbourhood with some friends. It will provide a sense of belonging and self-worth through sharing experiences and having a positive impact on you and beyond.

Be physically active

Did you know that getting out in the garden for just 30-45 minutes can burn up to 300 calories? Even low impact activities as sowing seeds or raking leaves involve focus, balance and coordination. Regular gardening as a form of exercise is extremely beneficial to your mental and physical health. Research suggests that people who garden are less likely to suffer from depression, anger and stress.

“The cure for this ill is not to sit still, Or frowst with a book by the fire; But to take a large hoe and a shovel also, And dig till you gently perspire; And then you will find that the sun and the wind, And the Djinn of the Garden too, Have lifted the hump – The horrible hump – The hump that is black and blue!” – Rudyard Kipling

Learn new skills

Growing plants is a laboratory where you can experiment, source, create, inspire and learn. You can grow food and cook with fresh home-grown produce, or design your own beautiful Eden in your backyard. It might inspire you to paint or even lead to a new career or hobby. The tomatoes you grow might be smaller than the ones in the catalogue picture, or they might never turn red because it was too late to plant them, but you can make delicious green tomato chutney out of it. Creative learning will increase your self-esteem and sense of achievement and purpose.

Give to others

Why not share the bounties of your garden? Random acts of kindness such as giving a bunch of flowers or a lettuce grown in your garden to your neighbour will create positive feelings and help build community around you. If you don’t have a garden, your elderly neighbour will appreciate a hand to maintain their own.

Have you thought about volunteering in a community garden or food bank? The act of giving will give you a feeling of purpose and self-worth while connecting with other people.

Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

A garden is a feast to the senses. The smell of lavender in the morning, holding a silky lamb’s ear leave between your fingers, bees buzzing in a hot summer day, nibbling some peppery rocket just harvested, witnessing a flock of jackdaws heading to their perching tree before dawn – all these experiences will help ground you in the present.

Being in nature can be a form of mindfulness that will contribute to heightening your awareness, enjoy life more and positively change the way you feel and how to approach challenges.

Stand-up comic Jo Brand, a former nurse at the hospital, is backing the Royal Bethlem’s garden appeal.

“Projects like the garden are under increased pressure to help more people, when many other activities are cancelled at this time resulting in increased isolation and loneliness,” Brand said.

“Please donate to this important cause – every £1 you donate will be doubled.”

Make a donation to Bethlem Garden in The Big Give campaign and every pound you give will be doubled. Donate by clicking here.

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