Feel-Good Gardening

You probably know that feeling that comes when you’ve been in a garden for a little while: a subtle slowing of your heart rate, a moment when you notice all is quiet inside your head – the anxious, irritated thoughts from earlier now gone, and your breathing fallen into an even, easy rhythm. You may find you’ve lost track of time, the knot in your shoulders has loosened up. These are the feel-good effects offered by your garden for free any time you care to wander out and let it have a few minutes to do its thing. 

No matter the circumstances, gardening can be adapted to ensure its benefits are within reach. At Trellis, gardening is used to help people manage or recover from depression, stroke, or cancer. It can be a way to build strength after an accident and a step towards getting back into work. Garden projects help people with support needs to build confidence, gain qualifications, and surprise themselves and others with their achievements. They can help people stay fit after a cardiovascular disease diagnosis and for others it’s a tool to manage chronic pain conditions.

The inspirational indoor garden of the Patchwork Community, Kilmarnock

Did you know just being near a plant can reduce your blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and decrease feelings of pain, stress, and fear? There are some fascinating Japanese and Korean studies that have measured these changes taking place. For all the attention that human scientific endeavour has devoted to plants and gardens in the last few decades, the precise mechanisms of these beneficial effects on human health remain somewhat mysterious. We don’t know quite how gardening works its magic on us, simply that it does.

Gardens restore us in so many ways, coaxing us into a better mood or getting us moving when we don’t feel like it, gently distracting us from nagging worries when a beautiful blossom opens. It’s no wonder then that across Scotland, at 480 therapeutic gardening projects in the Trellis network, skilled practitioners harness these benefits, helping over 12,000 people feel better each week.

For many people living in care homes, a bulb-planting session can spark happy memories of gardens in times gone by, scents and colours recalling a lifetime of people and places. The planting can be done around a table if the weather is uninviting. We find it’s not unusual for residents to burst into song during these gardening sessions, or for a normally reticent person to participate with real enthusiasm. Typically, care staff will learn things from residents’ wealth of gardening wisdom (a refreshing reversal from feeling like a dependent person who relies on younger carers to do and explain things) and in the weeks that follow a planting effort, the bowl of sprouting hyacinths or tray of pea shoots becomes a real conversation starter.

A ‘Jingle Bulbs’ posing activity with Ayrshire care home residents and school children

It can require extra care to bring gardening into palliative care facilities as patients’ immune systems may be fragile but it’s truly worth the effort. One gentleman, after cutting daffodils for a vase and sowing rocket seeds, said he’d forgotten the overwhelming pain he’d had before he started the session. He got so absorbed in the plants, their scent, and texture, it allowed him to escape his symptoms. The effects lasted long after the gardening activity ended. There’s good research evidence confirming this pain-relieving effect of being among plants. 

The corridors and treatment rooms of a psychiatric care unit can be oppressive, even with the best efforts at welcoming interior design. Being away from home and your routine can be disorientating, especially if you’re a young person who’s waited months for therapy. The chance to be outdoors, to feel the sun or rain on your face, and notice how the air smells offers a crucial chance to reconnect with normal life. Patients in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services say how important it is to escape the ward for a time, fill their lungs with fresh air, and enjoy the surroundings. Digging the soil can be an outlet for strong emotions and tending young plants is a vital antidote to screen time. Therapists find that working alongside young people in the garden enables more progress than sitting opposite them in the consulting room. Working by someone’s side can offer a less intimidating experience than face to face consultations.

Thanks to the generosity of funders and supporters from all walks of life, we’re able to help people get the most out of gardening every week. We provide inspirational demonstration sessions in care homes, hospitals, and other healthcare settings that give staff, volunteers, and residents the confidence and ideas to start gardening. Sometimes these are tabletop sessions, specially designed to enable everyone to take part whether they’re wheelchair gardeners or affected by the fatigue of cardiovascular disease or neurological conditions. We also make ‘how-to’ videos that care workers can consult any time the opportunity arises to squeeze in a gardening session. 

Planning a pizza in Falkirk, with children with visual impairments and their families

We provide training sessions in everything from basic horticulture skills, to how to adapt gardening techniques to help someone carry on growing things when they’re dealing with the effects of dementia.

In addition, we make advisory site visits. With matters horticultural, it’s so important to go and see people on location to give really customised advice on how to make a plot accessible, relaxing, and fun for the unique group of gardeners who will be using it.

If you are interested in learning more about therapeutic gardening, take a look at the Trellis website, www.trellisscotland.org.uk or get in touch, info@trellisscotland.org.uk.

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