Richard Powell, occupational health adviser at BHSF, talks about how gardening can be therapeutic and the benefits of homegrown vegetables.

I think I would be right in saying we are living in unprecedented times. However, the coronavirus epidemic won’t last forever.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to look at our lives, how we live them and see it as a chance to get fitter and healthier.

Admittedly, I’m not very green-fingered and it is my wife that is the garden specialist. However, I’ve given gardening a go and it’s so therapeutic. Gardening is for everyone.

Where to start

I’ve started growing potatoes, carrots and even Kale. I’m looking forward to seeing the results in September. Getting fresh air and being in the garden is great for the mind and body.

It’s easy to get carried away when looking through seed and plant catalogues. So make sure you grow only what you like, keeping experiments to a minimum.

Also, think about how long things take to grow. Cabbages, for instance, are slow to mature and take up precious space all season.

Think about how much space you have. This will be the greatest limitation on what you can grow. Many seed companies now sell ‘patio’ vegetables which are suitable for even the smallest of gardens.

Vegetables are nutritious, healthy and cheap. If you can’t get to any seeds, just wait until a few older potatoes have grown a few tubers on the body and plant them.

Tubers, which can vary in shape and size, is the thickened part of an underground stem of a plant.

Health and wellbeing

There’s growing evidence that gardening can benefit our mental health. A report in the Mental Health Review Journal cited gardening as being able to reduce stress and improve your mood, with the activity seeming to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety1.

Not only is gardening fun, but all that lifting, raking, digging and weeding make it an effective form of exercise too. Thirty minutes spent raking the lawn, pushing a lawnmower or digging can be just as effective, in the long-term, as going to the gym2.

Gardening is a gentle form of exercise and can provide an effective workout while putting minimal stress on the body, compared to running or aerobics.

If we know we need to tend to our plants, it can give us something to look forward to. Having a garden to care for can also give you a sense of responsibility towards your health and wellbeing.

If you only have a small area, like a balcony, just having somewhere with a bit of greenery can give you a valuable chance to escape the stresses of urban living. This can allow you to focus on the calming sights, sounds and scents of nature instead.

Homegrown vegetables

If you don’t have a garden or you live in a flat, you can still enjoy gardening on a smaller scale. By growing salad greens on your windowsill, you can enjoy fresh salad every day without the plastic packaging.

Second-hand stores often have plant pots for just a few pounds. Fill them with spinach, arugula, radicchio and romaine lettuce for a great salad mix. Old teacups are the perfect size to hold a handful of herb staples such as basil, cilantro, oregano and parsley.

It’s incredible how much you can grow on a balcony. Things like chard, tomatoes and strawberries can thrive in container gardens, depending on your growing season and the amount of light you get.

I’m a complete beginner and if I can grow vegetables, so can you. You’ll have great fun!

1 – Mental Health Review Journal, 2013: Gardening as a mental health intervention: a review

2 –