The joys and health benefits of gardening

Posted on April 6, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
National Gardening Week 2017

Do I have green fingers? Well, I don’t think so, although I have noticed that my ability to keep houseplants alive seems to have improved considerably in recent years. I recall that in my 20s and 30s, not even a hardy yucca could withstand my lack of attention and as a result I developed a preference for cut flowers when I felt my home could use some greenery.

I have always admired those friends who have terraces filled to the brim with plants, as well as the dedication of my serious gardener friends, (who all live outside London) who spend as much time chatting about seeds and cuttings as I do discussing the merits of Game of Thrones versus Vikings. I’m not sure that I’ll ever really make the gardener grade, but I’m interested in what interesting activities the organisers of National Gardening Week 2017 (10-16 April) have in store that might change my viewpoint.

The chief aim of the Week is to cultivate new gardeners among us, not just among the over 50s; they want to encourage people of any age to discover the joys and benefits of gardening, even if you’re not yet acquainted with soil types and everything green.

Gardening is good for your health

The benefits of gardening are many according to a report from the King’s Trust which explored the positive impact of gardens and gardening on health and wellbeing.

Simply digging or raking a lawn for half-an-hour requires as much energy as a 1.2-mile run and with that exercise, the report found, comes a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity and cancer. It can also improve balance and help tackle mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress.

David Buck, author of the report says: “It is clear that gardens can touch every part of our lives…providing multiple pathways to health gain, recovery and solace through achievement, activity and social contact.”

So there you have it, gardening is a great way to keep yourself fit and healthy and it’s no wonder that National Gardening Week has become such a popular event.

The origins of National Gardening Week

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched National Gardening Week six years ago and in the intervening years it has turned into the country’s biggest celebration of gardening, apart from the Chelsea Flower Show, which is another date for the calendar and seems to be equally popular with those who have never gone beyond owning a cactus. The RHS has managed to involve thousands of people, public and private gardens, retailers, charities and other groups in the week long event, and in 2017 its focus is on helping new gardeners learn how to grow plants.

The RHS Gardens and special events

The RHS puts its four gardens into action for the week; these are located at Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in Devon and Wisley in Surrey. The latter is its flagship garden that is famous for its impressive mixed borders, rock and woodland gardens, as well as its stunning glasshouse.

It also organises a host of special events and if you visit the website, you can find which ones are near you. One of my favourites, if I was in the area, is the Victorian Garden at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on the outskirts of Manchester. My reason for choosing this is that I am rather fond of Mrs Gaskell’s novels. Entrance is free on 15th April and visitors will be able to view this charming garden, designed, planted and maintained by a team of volunteers. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet the gardeners, who will show you around and answer your questions about the history, design and planting of the garden.

If you have younger family members around, then the Sweet Tooth Trail at Ness Botanic Garden in Cheshire might be just the ticket for some holiday entertainment. The trail was inspired by the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel and giant eggs have been laid out in the garden to help them escape from the wicked witch. Children are invited to find the eggs and learn about the plants that make the sweets and chocolate tasty. They will also have puzzles to solve and will discover some information about keeping their teeth healthy. The trail is open every day from 10am until 5pm from 10th-16th April.

Allotments have become fashionable once again, and in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, the Blue Triangle Housing Association is opening its Community Growing Space on 12th April. This is the first time the space has been open to the wider local community and during the day, visitors can attend workshops on gardening as well as the Alexandria community’s registration in the Keep Scotland Beautiful (It’s Your Neighbourhood) scheme.

Organise a gardening event

The RHS would also like to encourage any keen gardeners out there to get involved by organising your own event. If you have no idea about what such an event might be, then the RHS has loads of suggestions to help you and you can register your event with them, so that others can see it on the main website. They also encourage you to promote it on Facebook and Twitter, and you will find templates for posters and press releases on the National Gardening Week website.

So, if you have a garden to show off to the neighbours, tips on creating a vegetable garden, or the best types of plants for your area, why not get involved in National Gardening Week. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the sun stays shining.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.