May is a glorious month in the garden. Everything is really getting into full swing with lush greenery and plenty of flowers coming into bloom. When I look out at my garden I know that I am lucky – lucky that I have the space and (some) time to potter in it. I know many other people are not so fortunate. No matter how stressful life and work may become, I always feel better for a gentle stroll around the borders, pausing to admire a bloom or breathe in a gorgeous floral scent. For those few minutes in a busy day, I am outside, listening to bird song and getting a dose of fresh air – and it always makes me feel better.
I was interested to see both Gardeners’ World and some of the TV coverage of RHS Chelsea this week both talking about the importance of gardening and the therapeutic benefits that can be derived from it. And, after them making such a feature of it, it seems NHS GPs are all wanting to know how they can ‘prescribe’ gardening for their patients! It seems so obvious to me that I find all this sudden surge of interest slightly odd…
In its most formal sense, a therapeutic garden is: “An outdoor garden space specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their carers, family members and friends.” Therapeutic gardens can be found in all sorts of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other healthcare and residential environments. The gardens can be designed to include practical features such as raised beds for people with mobility issues, or more gentle and relaxing uses such as quiet private sitting areas next to a small pond with a trickling waterfall.
A few years ago I remember being really upset while visiting an elderly relative in hospital and seeing the central courtyard of the building being no more than a weed-filled bit of scrub with a couple of broken plastic chairs in it. It was utterly depressing and so not what these poorly people needed. Eventually, it was taken over by a local charity and transformed into a beautiful green oasis appreciated by patients, visitors and staff alike. But how sad that it was allowed to get into such a state in the first place.
But times have changed, thank goodness, and now there is plenty of documented evidence that gardens and green spaces have a very positive effect on people’s mental and physical well being and the NHS and other medical bodies realise how important such ‘breathing space’ Is.
I turn to gardening as a way of calming my mind and the tangle of competing thoughts inside my head somehow clears and settles, and ideas that are barely formed take shape. I must confess, I often come up with some of the most ‘deadly’ plots for my novels when I am in the throes of deadheading!
Let’s face it, plants are much less frightening and challenging than people. Background noise falls away and you can escape from other people’s thoughts and judgments so that within a garden, I think you have more freedom to feel good about yourself.