Frontend Drupal developer with a penchant for arts & crafts. A floral geek some might say!

Gardening and mental health

So what made me get an allotment this year? Well, Younique did. When you sign up to Y and you start running with it you start to do a lot of personal development, it's frequently said by Elite presenters and those really pushing Y that bettering yourself will better your business. So I spent a lot of time focussing on me. One of the tasks we frequently do as a presenter is vision boarding. Cutting and sticking your ideal life onto a board so you can visualise your ultimate goal, helps the right (creative) side of your brain realise the goal better than a list or a plan, thats what the left (logical) side likes. I'll write more about vision boards another time.

I found myself sticking photos of The Good Life onto my vision board too often, then it occurred to me that I could just go and do it, so I did. I'd like to share with you the benefits of gardening the I've noticed in the past few months.

General sense of happiness

There’s a natural antidepressant in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae is being studied and has indeed been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. A lack of serotonin has been linked to depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar problems. The bacterium appears to be a natural antidepressant in soil and has no adverse health effects. So when planting or playing in the dirt you’ll skin will absorb these microbes and give you a boost.

Fitness

Exercise is probably the most obvious but getting out in the fresh air and weeding, planting, picking are all great exercise. I often have achey muscles after I've spent a few hours at the plot.

Sense of community

One of the reasons for me getting an allotment was that my grandads were both keen gardeners. One was the chairman(?) of his local allotment and my childhood was spent sat on the bench talking to the old boys, learning rude ditties and practical jokes, whilst eating massive nanny made cakes. Or picking mint and runner beans and drinking homemade lemonade (all things I actually hated as a kid but love now! you don't appreciate these things until they are gone!) but the honour of my grandparents isn't the only instinct i wanted to reignite, theres an older one, more engrained in all of us, about community and belonging.

I've spoken about tribes before at my Drupalcon talk and other posts but there is actual research proving that safety, belonging, and mattering are essential to your brain and your ability to perform at work, at home, and in life overall. Take a read of The 3 Things All Humans Crave—And How To Motivate Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere for a brief description of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, or just google that to find out more about what humans actually need and their order.

Just being at the allotment gives me that feeling of belonging. All but one person (there’s always one, right?!) has been delightful to talk too. Even those you just pass by say hello, you know like the good old days or up north! It really does perk you up a bit when someone else takes the time to look at you and say Hi.

Me time

Space to get away from it all, locking that gate and shutting the world away is a wonderful feeling. Not one that my home provides, there are boring things that need to be done there, laundry, decorating, it’s overwhelming and draining and probably worthy of another blog post!

Don't tell anyone but when I get to the allotment the first thing I do is break out my secret stash of biscuits (and gin) and just enjoy the space. Leaving the tech in the shed until the end of my visit means I get away from screens and people and spend time not thinking about anything but the plot.

I do find that if I have to be home by a certain time that I clock watch and don't have as much fun. Thats one of the things I need to fix with routine and telling people no.

Nurturing and Esteem

I don’t have kids and that’s probably for the best if you look at my Chinese Cabbages! But having a plot is a lot of work and you have to nurture it. On the one hand the responsibility of looking after a plot or even a plant is on you! I recently came back from a week away and 3 of my 4 chilli plants are now dead, because I forgot to water the smaller ones before I left. Thats all on me and I've learned that lesson. On the other hand, I got off the plane and ran to the allotment (well pretty much) the courgettes were almost marrows and the poppies finally bloomed, looking amazing. There were tonnes of raspberries, more than I could carry home. It didn't take much for these plants to grow, just popped them into the ground and reaped the rewards. It felt great to see the marigolds and asters I nursed from a seed into flowers, especially when so many of the young plants didn't make it. This sense of pride and and feeling of accomplishment is also on the Hierarchy of Needs

Creativity

You get to plan what goes where and can be as creative as you want with it. I knew from the beginning I didn’t want rows but little blocks of veg that alternate their direction so that I got a chess board of vegetables. I’ve probably spent more time planning and sketching my allotment than I have actually growing things… next year I’ll change that, but the creativity of it all ignites creativity in other areas of my life. Which is handy being a designer and all.

Take a closer look


Simply Psychology
Lets look closer at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I think you’ll agree with me that all of the points I’ve mentioned are covered in each layer of the triangle. The growing food, the security of the gate, the friendships made, feelings of accomplishment and the creative activities. The more layers an activity fills the more fulfilled you’ll be. Mix that with the happy giving microbes in the soil and its pretty clear that gardening is good for your overall health.

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