For many gardeners, it’s memories with grandparents, older aunts and uncles or another significant adult, and being taught how they grew plants, cared for the soil, tips and tricks and, of course, stories.


I used to follow my grandfather around his vegetable garden at the end of the garden, divided by a handmade wooden pergola, rockery, a small pond and a hammock. I used to pull along a wooden, blue truck that contained a blunt pair of scissors, some garden string and packets of seeds, and through his stories, he taught me the importance of looking after the soil, how to sow seeds, how to prick them out, how and why to tie in climbers and a whole lot more. This inter-generational gardening, the connection between an older person and a child, has been well documented and researched.


Gardening is seen as the perfect outlet for connecting with each other and the environment around us. Not only did I learn from my grandparents, but it also kept them active, both physically and mentally. As a great-uncle, I hope to share my gardening tips with my great-nieces.


One of the most remarkable shared gardening activities is growing a plant in a pot, nurturing it, watering and feeding it, and simply watching it grow indoors or outdoors. You can be 9 or 90 years of age and reap the positive benefits of looking to the future.


For many people who live alone, young and senior, loneliness is one of the hardest things to live with. Yet, gardening in your own patch and chatting over the garden fence, or joining a community garden or gardening club is a great way to make new friends. I’m also still surprised, to this day, when I visit public/community gardens and watch people who may not have spoken with another soul for months, even years. Put them in a natural garden setting, and a cup of tea will be the only thing that will stop them from chatting (at least, for a moment).


Being surrounded by greenery, perhaps with houseplants or a garden or patio filled with flowers and edibles, has, according to the King’s Fund (1), been ‘linked to long-term reductions in overall reported health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions)’. Gardening, green spaces and being outdoors also help reduce levels of obesity, increase physical activity and improve mental health for all ages.


Gardening does not discriminate based on age, sex, ethnicity, background, or sexuality. There are no boundaries, so gardening can bring people together.


The impact of green spaces throughout childhood is significant. Exposure to green spaces is comparable to a family history and parental age, when predicting mental-health outcomes. Looking and caring for greenery and living plants helps protect against mood disorders, depression, neurotic behaviour and stress-related issues. Research also reveals that more prolonged exposure to green spaces has more significant mental health benefits. Living in cities has been found by NASA Earth Observatory (2) to increase neural activity, which can be linked to higher stress levels.


As we age, our relationship with gardens and gardening may change. Our bodies may ache in old and new parts, tire more quickly, or need assistance lifting heavy bags of compost. Still, evidence has shown that gardening helps with independence, loneliness, a sense of achievement and responsibility. The physical side of gardening has also been shown to prevent falls, as the body and repeated activity help sustain good gait and balance.


Dementia studies have shown that exposure to gardens and nature helps reduce agitation, aggression and other symptoms and improves concentration, social connectivity, connection with memories and access to the natural world and natural light. Sunlight produces vitamin D, which helps support bone health, lowers blood pressure, prevents disease and promotes good mental health.


We now know that getting our bare hands into the soil/compost releases endorphins and serotonin in the brain, making us feel good. Mulching, improving impoverished soils, or simply filling pots and containers will not only get us outside and give us a full-body workout (who needs a gym!), but we’ll feel all the better for it. Mix in different people of all ages and backgrounds, and new and old stories will be shared for years to come.

Mark

 

References:

1. Gardens and health: implications for policy and practice, David Buck, commissioned by the National Garden Scheme, The King’s Fund, May 2016
2. Green space is good for mental health, K. Engemann et al, NASA Earth Observatory, Landsat Science Outreach Team and Aarhus University, Denmark

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