As I was scrubbing my hands after a couple of very enjoyable hours in my garden recently, it struck me just how therapeutic working with the soil can be.
Recent studies have shown how much gardening can contribute to one’s physical and mental well-being. There is nothing better than tending a plot of ground, however small, planting a few seeds and watching them grow into something beautiful and maybe even edible.
Few people can deny how good home grown produce can taste and picking a ripe fruit from your own tree, that you have seen start as a tiny bud, then a flower in the exuberance of spring, becoming a growing fruit in the summer and finally maturing in all the mellow splendour of the autumn sun is just magical.
It doesn’t just happen though; tending a garden is hard work, digging the soil, enriching it with compost, cutting back plants and recycling them into new compost, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges to name just a few tasks, but what a promoter of health and all in the great outdoors, with fresh air and sunshine, in tune with nature. What could be better?
Just a few hours working in the garden is such a good stress buster; being able to enjoy the rewards later of standing back to admire a freshly dug seed bed, a crop of vegetables or a border of beautiful flowers, and all this without a mobile phone, screen or device to be seen!
Gardens have over millennia been places of contemplation, spaces to unwind and re-connect with one’s equilibrium. Monks walked in the cloistered gardens of their medieval monasteries, academics use the quads of university colleges to contemplate their work and even office workers escape at lunch time to the nearest park to be away from the hustle and bustle of today’s fast moving world.
We can do that too. In a garden we can enjoy the simplicity of just “being”, of listening to the birds and insects as they go about their daily lives and we can simply enjoy each season for what it is and its variety and beauty.
The benefits of gardening are overwhelming to our well-being. Recently Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP and Chair of the health Select Committee, herself a GP, promised that the Government would fund an enquiry into the benefits of gardening, with a view to making it available on prescription from the NHS. Let’s wait and see what becomes of that one…..
We however can do so much, even on a small scale, in our own gardens, houses, or here at school. We have recently re-vamped the wildlife area at the far end of the school estate and have made the pond and surrounding area more suitable for use by pupils of all ages across any possible curriculum area from nursery to sixth form.
In the pond there is special dipping area complete with boardwalk and areas for creatures to climb out of the water should they fall in.
Nearby is a purpose built bug-shack for the insects to over-winter and breed and a seating area of log stools forms an outside classroom for all to use.
In Junior School we have our sensory garden, where children can be introduced to nature at a very early stage through the beauty of sight, sound, touch and smell. They even have a mud kitchen where they can bake and cook using sterilised soil. The sunflowers below were planted and grown by the girls in our Junior School and produced a magnificent display outside the classrooms for everyone to enjoy. The seed heads will now be left to dry to provide food for the birds in the coming winter months.
Connecting with nature and growing things at a young age unlocks a world of magical fascination and discovery. You don’t need a lot of land, anyone can grow a seed in a pot on the windowsill and the responsibility that is bestowed upon you to make sure it is looked after, watered, fed, potted on and harvested creates a feeling of well-being and self-worth, where an individual is essential for the survival of something else other than just themselves. It has been scientifically proven that by looking after plants, humans focus less on their own problems and worries and become more objective and balanced. This is certainly something that many people, young and old would find beneficial.
We can all do more to connect with nature a little, take my advice and put a vase of flowers on your desk or table, grow a seed or bring pot plants into your home or office and you will soon see the benefits of what they bring into your life.
Senior Deputy Head