How Gardening Through The Seasons Saved My Mental Health
Can gardening help your mental health?
While challenging times and failure are inevitable, what matters is what we do to overcome them.
In the most literal sense, gardening encompasses life. It represents the seeds we sow and the foundations we lay to kickstart our journey. As we nourish and look after ourselves, those seeds will grow; however, naturally, it’s all trial and error. Influences beyond our control may affect our lives, but it enriches our experiences by teaching us how to cope. Over time, we will learn and trust what we need to continue on our journey, grow and bloom—becoming our best selves.
The Mindful Gardening Coach, Kendall Platt, shares how her garden saved her mental health.
3am staring at the ceiling, mind whirring, ‘How am I going to cope with losing him’, ‘What the fuck am I going to do for work’, ‘How am I going to pay for our new house?’
These thoughts persistently crept into my mind as I examined blood-soaked clothing in my soon-to-be redundant job as a forensic scientist.
One of my best friends was dying, and I could no longer use the tight control I exerted over everything in my life to enable me to cope. I couldn’t use it to navigate the deep dread and sadness I felt at losing him.
Before long, the nighttime mental ruminations became nighttime panic attacks, and I’d wake feeling like my chest was being slowly crushed.
Confused and scared, I booked to see my doctor, who confirmed severe anxiety and panic attacks and scheduled me for some sessions with Talking Therapies.
In these sessions, I realised that I had been burying my emotions FOR YEARS by keeping myself busy. If I was never slow and still, I didn’t have to face up to the reality of them. The panic attacks were my body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t hold these in for you anymore; you need to start dealing with them’.
A week later, we moved into our new home and whilst exciting, the garden that came with the house felt like another thing to do.
It was overgrown, and my control freak tendencies couldn’t leave it looking so wild and unkempt. So on the first sunny weekend, I headed out.
After two hours of chopping, digging, and clearing, I felt like I was beginning to make a difference and noticed that my mind was calm and quiet for the first time in a very long time.
I found myself thinking about my looming redundancy, and instead of shutting down the feelings of panic that arose, I allowed them to flow through my body as my spade sliced through the damp soil.
And so began my love affair with gardening
An activity that unexpectedly supported my very noisy brain to find some calm and provided me with a safe space to process my emotions instead of trying to pretend they weren’t there.
Stolen moments out there continuing the significant big clear out, dreaming and planning what it would look like, planting new plants and growing things from seed.
Initially, I needed to figure out what I was doing and failed a lot. But in that failure, I learnt that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t possibly control everything. And gardening and life showed me genuine moments of beauty when I didn’t try to.
The garden and I bumped along happily for a couple of years until life threw me another curveball in the form of a jealous colleague at work.
Unfounded accusations of poor performance, using company time for personal activities and screaming in my face when she didn’t get her way. The situation plunged me back into a severely low mood and anxiety.
Other than asking my boss to deal with the situation, there was little I could do, so I grew. I returned to my garden and grew flowers, fruit, and vegetables in as many bright and joyful colours as possible. Rather than feeling hopeless, I was determined to focus on what I could do.
We all live 100 miles an hour and rarely take the time to slow down and acknowledge the daily things and how we feel about them.” – Kendall Platt, The Mindful Gardening Coach
For the next two years, I leaned heavily into the salvation my garden could provide. Each time a seedling emerged from the damp, dark brown soil, it gave me hope that I wouldn’t be in this situation forever and could continue to grow and thrive even in harsh conditions.
I clung tight to my green sanctuary, digging away my stresses and frustrations at every opportunity. As my garden flourished, so did my mental health until I felt well enough to start thinking about growing the next generation of our family.
My daughter was born in that disgustingly hot 2018 summer, at home after a very long labour. I had never felt more powerful and proud of myself in the days after her birth. But loneliness soon crept in. Long days while my husband was out at work, constantly questioning whether I was doing this motherhood thing right, had me all at sea again.
The minute I heard his key in the door, I’d fling the baby at my unsuspecting husband and escape into the sanctuary of the garden. A space that I knew intimately, where I knew who I was and what was expected of me.
As I watered my plants, watching the soil change from grey to dark brown, I reminded myself that I could do hard things. I only had to look around me to see the beauty I’d created despite initially having no idea what I was doing.
My plants, like good friends, made me smile, brought fun and colour to my life and fed my mind and body until I felt strong enough to face the outside world again.
I continue to lean on my garden for support, nourishment and joy when life gets tough and even when all seems well. It has been my best friend in the darkest of times, and I wouldn’t be without it.
I’m living proof that you don’t have to have hours to spend outdoors, and many of the gardening activities I do myself and teach to clients take 20 minutes.
Here are some practical activities you can try at home this January to improve your mood, stop the January blues and add more joy to your life, no matter how busy you are.
Sowing seeds for hope
- Sowing sweet peas seeds in January has long been a marker of hope for the New Year for me.
- Nestle your seeds into deep pots of compost and water. Keep them on a cool windowsill until you see green shoots emerging.
- Why not make a daily check for signs of growth part of your daily routine in January? When you have your morning cuppa, perhaps?
Feed the birds
A mindful, healthy garden encourages wildlife to do some of the work for you. Birds encouraged into your garden with bird seed in the winter months will help you out in the summer. They consume certain pests straight from your plants. Hang a feeder outside so it can easily be seen from the house. Commit to taking 5 minutes daily to stop, be and observe nature outside your window. Notice how you feel before and after these 5 minutes.
Prune out some dead wood
Winter is a time for rest, recovery and retreat for many plants and trees. Trees are now in their dormant stage; for many of them, it is the perfect time to prune out any dead or diseased wood and ensure the tree’s shape promotes healthy growth from Spring onwards.
Give your secateurs a good clean with warm soapy water before removing any crossing branches to give the tree an open goblet-like shape and promote good airflow.
Each time you cut through the branches, focus on what you can feel and hear. How do you feel after you’ve finished?
Kendall Platt is The Mindful Gardening Coach. She helps busy women create the well-being garden of their dreams and teaches them to get creative with the flowers they grow.
She supports women through online and in-person workshops, her online Mindful Gardening Club, and her ‘Cultivate your Well-being 1-to-1 programme’.
The views and opinions expressed within this post are solely the author’s. They do not reflect the views and beliefs of Women Who Rebrand–#WWR or its affiliates.
The views and opinions are solely their own current opinions regarding events and are based on their own perspective and opinion – it is the opinion and perspective of the author.
Such views, opinions, and/or perspectives are intended to convey a life story, are based on recollections about events in their lives on which conflicting memories may exist, and are not intended to malign any individual or company.
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