Gardening & Well-being
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Part One: The twirling brain
Gardening is beneficial to mental health, an uncontroversial statement, with the presumption readily affirmed by generations of gardeners. Understanding why this should be the case requires a bit more investigation. My contribution to the conversation falls into the category of observation and my claims are wholly unscientific, rather my modest aim is to stimulate further debate and inquiry.
A passer-by once commented that “it must be wonderful to be a gardener, as it gives you so much time to think!” Reflecting on this seemingly simple truth, my reasoning brought me to a more nuanced position. You do not think in an active sense when you are carrying out a gardening task, you are in the moment, the myriad number of thoughts that invade consciousness during your waking hours are banished. There are of course periods of planning, contemplation and creativity, all of which require a deeper thought process, but these occur before or after the manual tasks such as planting, weeding or mowing. Perhaps it might be better to say that during a task there is an extreme focus on one simple action so that the only thing that has any significance at that moment is the straightness of an edge or a stripe on a lawn.
There is no place for multitasking in this singular doing world. To illustrate the point, my mind goes back to when my gardening business was first starting up; which meant a juggling act between my established career in fashion and my new horticultural endeavour. The mental gymnastics required to jump from the singular ‘doing’ environment, (as described above), to the chaotic world that had been my habitat for most of my adult life, was challenging. Gardening in the morning with my empty brain would render me incapable of switching on the ’twirling brain mode’ for fashion with all the variety of actions required in the afternoon. This made the decision to ditch a 30+ year career in textiles and clothing, in favour of a full-time commitment to plants and gardening almost inevitable, and, in the end, a relatively swift and easy transition. The sense of relief in abandoning the twirling world was immediate, followed by a growing appreciation for the empty spaces vacated by the previous chaos. The outward result of this new state has led to many comments from friends and family of my new, relaxed, almost zen like attitude toward life.
An unexpected consequence has been that the dormant spaces are quite difficult to switch back on again. This short piece, I’ll admit, has been tortuous to write and is the first I have attempted in years. Likewise reading had become virtually impossible until picking up a non-fiction recently. Perhaps my brain is allowing a little re-calibration in favour of the cerebral, after an extended period of inactivity required to repair and strengthen my mental fortitude.
So, to summarise, for this first part I would maintain that the physical act of gardening allows for necessary empty spaces in the brain, which act as an antidote to pressure and stress. In the second part I will go on to talk about additional conditions and characteristics allied to this first point.
As always, your comments are welcome.