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  • A garden sanctuary is something that everyone should have access too given our frantic lives. Gardens can provide you with much-needed rest and relaxation. Providing balance to the stresses of life. In our 21st-century world everything seems to be expected, bigger, faster and more up to date than ever before. It is conversely at the same time required to be thinner, smaller and more socially available than ever before. You shouldn't eat this. You can't do that. You must avoid those. I think most can relate to these pressures. This article details how garden therapy can help bring peace and healing to your life.

    Garden therapy is something I am resolute about promoting. The one message is that gardening, in any form can directly increase your happiness. I believe gardening is the therapy that everyone can benefit from whether you’re overworked, feeling lonely or wondering what you’re doing with your life. We have all been there and I don’t think anyone would argue that at some point or another we all need some form of stress relief or change of scenery.  Whether you have a huge sprawling estate or the smallest of spaces, gardening can bring you the much-needed stress relief from the hectic schedule of your life.

    The good news is that visiting gardens and the physical act of gardening have a proven effect on increasing well-being, reducing stress and increasing your happiness. There are no vitamin pills, guilt trips or changes in your weekly shopping list needed. Gardening isn’t half as difficult as you may think either. There’s no need for back breaking work, endless weeding or expensive tools. Starting with just a tiny seed you can grow the garden of your dreams and increase your well-being all at the same time. Who would have thought that garden therapy could be your route to increased happiness, health and well-being?

    Garden Ninja is here to help explain why gardening is great therapy.

    From potted plants to sprawling estates there are many types of gardening

    Health benefits of gardening

    Gardening allows you to find a reason to leave the comfort of your sofa or home to explore the outdoors. Bringing fresh air and a different perspective to your life. Gardening is completely within your control meaning that you decide what goes where, whether things need moving, pruning or feeding. The garden can be a constant companion it won’t beg for your attention, scream at you when you make a mistake or ignore you. It will, however, reward you with the fruits of your labour with flowers, lush growth, fruits or vegetables if you grow them and a beautiful natural foil for the outside space.

    If that’s not enough to tempt you then here’s my summarised list of the health benefits of gardening. See if any of these would be of benefit to you.

    1. Relaxation and calm
    2. Fresh vegetables and home grown food sources are gratifying and better for you
    3. Physical exercise of light to moderate gardening
    4. Fresh air and sunlight
    5. Sense of community with neighbours, fellow allotment growers and local garden centres
    6. A closer connection and deeper understanding of nature
    7. Creating something that wasn’t there before – something unique to you

    NHS Research into Garden Therapy

    The NHS has been looking into promoting ‘green therapy’ as a prescribed treatment for a host of social and mental health issues. Over the past 15 years, the application of gardening as therapy to help with issues such as stress, depression and anxiety has been on the increase. This is fantastic news for both mother nature and the wider community. Whilst most gardeners would testify that gardening is incredibly relaxing, rewarding and brings a wealth of benefits, the NHS has now undertaken research to prove this.

    One of the most involved studies that the NHS has cited was undertaken in Sweden. It was undertaken by the Karolinska University Hospital and The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences who over 12.5 years undertook studies on people who undertook ‘Non-exercise physical activity’ (NEPA). This NEPA activity covered gardening such as mowing the lawn, home repair,  fishing & collecting fruit and mushrooms. Basically, any activity that wasn’t undertaken in a gym or overly strenuous. Though many gardeners who have tried to dig up a root would argue this is some of the most strenuous activity!

    The results showed that there was a 27% reduced risk of heart attack, stroke or angina, and a 30% reduced risk of death during 12.5 years of follow-up. There were limitations as this study doesn’t prove cause and effect but does shed some interesting detail on the benefits of gardening.

    Dc Bird (a GP of 30 years) and Dr Van Den Bosch, who is a medical doctor and a researcher at the Swedish University of Agriculture have put a case forward for gardening as therapy. Dc Van Den Bosch was quoted at RHS Lindley Hall in Nov 2014 “that gardening, plants and horticultural activities are excellent tools for creating a healthier society where the costs of health care and human suffering can be substantially reduced“.

    Dr William Bird told the conference on gardening for therapy that GPs should prescribe gardening to prevent the onset of dementia.

    Access to a garden

    I am a great believer that everyone should have access to a garden, whether it be a balcony or window planter, courtyard, back garden, allotment, huge estate or shared garden. In today’s modern busy world gardening is an activity that can force you to take a break. To pause the endless deadlines and stress to engage in an activity that is both calming and rewarding. A time without checking facebook or twitter feeds on your smartphone. A time where the only thing you’re checking is the condition of your garden. The well-being of your plants. And importantly the well being of yourself.

    Imagine sowing your own seeds to be rewarded weeks later with plants and, later on, your own flowers? Gardening is not just a means to an end but an immersive activity which can take as little or as much effort as you decide. It will enable you to socialise online or in real life with other gardeners, horticulturalists and botanists. You can share tips, ask for advice and get fresh ideas from all the people you are bound to meet along the way.

    allotment garden ninja

    A garden allotment has long been the refuge of many

    Monty Don, recognised as a presenter on Gardeners world,  has advocated that gardening “can and does contribute a great deal to physical and mental health and thus makes a significant contribution to the well-being of society”. He further went on to discuss how nobody will become fully engaged in gardening until they have access to one.  Garden Ninja is passionate about helping people make the most of their gardening space, from the smallest balconies to the largest estates there is a solution for everyone.

    Even the smallest of spaces can be used to create a micro-garden on a patio or small outdoor space. Below is an example of how a few apple crates around a grid can create the perfect micro garden to start you off on your garden therapy journey.apple-crate-planting It’s less important which plants you choose but more than you get started. The nurturing side of gardening will soon have you giddy with excitement yo get home and sit or tend to your garden space. The example below uses some pots and a chair to incorporate height planting on a small terrace. Just look at the variety and interest it provides.

    Gardening increases happiness

    I see gardening as a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in our life and work. Mindfulness can improve our quality of life. This is undertaken by regular mindfulness practice of returning your focus to the breath, to help see thoughts as they truly are rather than getting caught up in them. With practice you can choose to analyse thoughts rather than get swept up in them, this allows you, in turn, to decide whether you will follow this thought or simply let it go. This practice has been proven in helping depression, anxiety and stress in numerous studies, Dc Mark Williams and Prof. Danny Penman being the UK’s most renowned mindfulness advocates.Garden therapy garden ninja

    From my own perspective gardening is one of those activities that you can lose yourself in. Completely focused on the right now and the immediate environment. For anyone suffering from work pressures, stress, doubt or anxiety I can’t recommend gardening enough.

    Whether you’re growing vegetables in a raised bed or tending to beds of flowers you get rewarded not just with the fruits of your labour but with an activity that helps release stress. Having a focus can help remove worries and stresses that may be plaguing your thoughts. Gardening requires concentration at the tasks at hand, whether it be planting up bedding plants or carefully pruning. This focus can be a type of meditation, where you can forget about your stresses whilst you’re gardening, giving you some well-deserved rest bite.

    Mindfulness Gardening Example Activity

    Why not try Garden Ninjas mindfulness activity below, it only takes 5 minutes and should bring a sense of calm to you.

    1. Make your way to your garden space and when you’re ready, take a few slow deep breaths to settle yourself.
    2. Take a seat somewhere near a border, planter, tree or shrubs that you particularly like.
    3. Pick a leaf off the plant, find one that’s fallen or hold one that’s still attached. (This could also be a flower or fruit)
    4. Close your eyes and continue to breathe slowly.
    5. Now pay attention to the feel of the leaf, is it smooth, textured or ridged? Spend a minute breathing and focusing in on all the sensations you get from this. Try and pay attention to the leafs sensation in your hands.
    6. Next start to visualise the leaf in your mind focusing in on what it looks like and how the texture you’re feeling would look.
    7. If your mind wanders that’s fine, don’t beat yourself up but bring it back to the texture and visualisation.
    8. When you’ve spent a minute seeing that leaf, expand the view slowly to the entire plant. Holding this image in your mind.
    9. Now consider this plant, stationary unable to move, just sitting there peacefully as the world goes on around it. Paying attention to the sensation of maybe a breeze or any noises the plant makes in the breeze. This plant just is, as you are now.
    10. Allow yourself to slowly connect with this image whilst breathing in becoming aware that you and the plant are just existing in this moment of calm. Spend some time here, breathing in and out until you’re completely at one with your breath.
    11. Whenever you are ready, bring your mind back to the present gently. Returning to the shape of that leaf and then becoming aware of your body too. When you’re ready, open your eyes and slowly start to stretch back to life.

    Now you may have felt a bit silly at first doing that, but I bet by the end of it that niggling worry or pressure you may have felt before starting has temporarily left your mind! This just shows that gardening is your time to fully relax switch off and forget about the endless lists of ‘must dos’ and replace them with a  gardening ‘love to do’ list. The fresh air and the sunshine can never be beaten by staring at a computer, tablet or tv screen.

    Even if you’re brand new to gardening or have the smallest garden space you can get involved. Garden Ninja can help plan the ideal way to take your first steps into gardening and start your own well-being garden journey. Why not have a look at my portfolio to get the ideas flowing?

    What next?

    This article doesn’t claim to be the authority on garden therapy but should give you some pointers as to where to start and provide a few ideas to try. If you’ve decided that gardening is your type of therapy but are wondering what next? Well, I would urge anyone to just get stuck into gardening as there is no time like the present!

    However, if you want to fully maximise your garden space you Garden Ninja can help you. Either a Garden design or our popular planting plan service can help you make the most of your garden. Planting plans are a fantastic way to get into gardening without the expense or commitment of a full garden rework.

    Get in touch with your stories in a TweetFacebook or Instagram message. You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.I guarantee you won’t regret it!

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