"It's my bit of Scotland". CommonSpace reports on how gardening is really, really good for the soul

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The Scottish news website CommonSpace - a production of the think-tank Common Weal - has been running a series this week on the country’s “mental health crisis”.

One of their pieces will be familiar to those in the A/UK networks who advocate permaculture as a route to wellbeing and contentment. It’s on the power of growing things to prevent mental ill-health, through gardening.

Excerpt below:

On a practical level, re-engaging with the natural world through growing your own food can prevent the onset of mental health problems and enable people over time to recover their equilibrium.  The book ‘Raising Spirits - allotments, wellbeing and community‘ has many stories about this.

For example a trainee on the Scottish Association of Mental Health training course said: ‘Redhall isn’t a life placement, it’s a place where you can stop and rest and gather yourself again, learn some skills, appreciate nature, learn that you are still part of the human race and best of all gain ways of coping and nurturing yourself.’

A plotholder in Dundee said that his plot is his ‘bit of Scotland’ and that allotments are a personal therapeutic garden which helped him fight depression: ‘Jam made from my raspberries gives a meaning to life. Living in a tower block is like living in a hencoop and on my plot I have my own space where I can get away from it all and switch off or, if I feel like company there are people from different countries and different backgrounds to talk to.’

‘Men’s Sheds’ is a new development bringing men together to connect, converse and create so helping combat loneliness and isolation. Allotment huts have served this purpose for generations and building them, particularly using recycled material, is a creative activity, available to all.  They provide places with comfy chairs, frying pans and wood stoves where small groups of plot-holders meet all the year round. Quiet spaces, not publicised but an anchor and refuge for many. 

The contribution which gardening can make to the recovery of those suffering from mental health illnesses was recognised in the past when hospitals had large gardens and even farms and orchards, providing fresh food and meaningful activity for the patients. Alas most of these were abandoned in the clinical approach to mental illness but this is changing, albeit slowly and there is an increasing recognition of their benefits.

Trellis is the Scottish charity specialising in therapeutic gardening. It supports a network of over 200 therapeutic gardening projects in Scotland, including some in secure units.  Their reports and case studies show how gardening helps people take care of their physical, emotional and social well-being.

What could be done to build on the impact and benefits of community growing? 

In a Review Article from Preventative Medicine Reports 5 (2017), they say that ‘Gardening is beneficial for health’. The authors conclude that: “Our meta-analysis has provided robust evidence for the positive effects of gardening on health. With an increasing demand for reduction of health care costs worldwide, our findings have important policy implications. The results presented here suggest that gardening can improve physical, psychological, and social health, which can, from a long- term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today's society.”

More here.