Those who don’t garden can be forgiven for not understanding quite why people do it. It can seem like a traditional exercise with strange goals, to beautify nature or take control of our own little plots. But those who do swiftly learn the benefits of tending to the earth, of prising out flowers from the ground or raising seedlings from trays, and those benefits are difficult to see, because innate calm and relaxation is such a wonderfully internal thing.
I’m one of those people who naturally operates at a slightly faster speed than is necessary. I try to cram too much into my day, I am endlessly looking for ways of being more efficient. It’s a common practice among most of us with jobs and lives to juggle.But the reason I became hooked on gardening is because it was basically the only way I could slow down. It’s a meditative process: the tasks are often simple, but demand patience and perseverance. Your mind can be given the space to gently switch off while your hands and body do the work.
Knowing where to start, however, can be a challenge. So here are my favourite routes to relaxation in the outdoors -whether you’ve got a garden or not.
So much of gardening is looking. It’s how you know what your plants are up to, how you know what they need and how you know what to do next. It’s crucial to learning more about your plants. Start by taking in the whole space: where does it reach, where are its boundaries, how does it all work together? This can be done whether you’re in a park or a tiny balcony. Once you’ve clocked the surrounds you can zoom in on the detail. Challenge yourself to look for tiny changes -are there buds on the trees, is something about to come into bloom, or have petals faded? Looking for little things takes time and concentration, and you’ll feel your mind clear as you do it.
I find it impossible to go into a garden or a park and not touch some of the plants growing. The rough texture of tree bark; the soft, comforting sponginess of moss; the delicacy of falling petals and the hardier heft of foliage. Touching the soil is an essential part of plant care -it allows you to detect if its too wet or dry, which is a good thing to do to make sure you’re watering properly. I always garden without gloves, it makes me feel closer to what I’m doing and there’s something deeply relaxing about feeling soil on your hands. Certain plants, such as herbs, let off amazing scents, which leads me to...
Take in a good whiff of the air -go on! A nice big breath. And then let it out. See what you can smell. At certain times of the year you can catch amazing scents from plants on the air: daphne and hyacinth in winter, jasmine in spring and the headiness of roses in high summer. Everything in nature has a scent to it, and even the less glamorous things such as moss and wet leaves have a distinct outdoorsiness to them that can connect you further with the world around you.
Start something new
Getting familiar with green space is the best way to introduce yourself to gardening and learning how to relax around greenery, but a surefire way to get connected with the natural world is by growing something yourself. There is such a pure joy and satisfaction in seeing something you’ve planted take up space in the world. An easy way in is with annual bedding plants, which can be planted up with some multipurpose compost in a trough or container to bring some brightness to your plot, no matter whether you’ve got a windowsill or a huge garden. Or perhaps you could try sowing some seeds? Spring and summer is the perfect time to sow edible plants such as lettuce leaves and herbs into damp soil. Leave them somewhere sunny and keep them well-watered and you’ll be eating your crops within weeks.