It’s amazing what getting outside in the fresh air and connecting with the earth can do for your mind, body and soul
10 ways gardening can benefit the mind, body and soul
Many of us are striving to take a more mindful approach to life, thinking carefully about how our activities might affect our overall wellbeing. Gardening happens to tick many of the boxes on the mindfulness checklist: connecting us with nature, helping to keep our bodies fit and healthy, and improving mental clarity and happiness. Combine these benefits with a keener awareness of your local community and the wider environment and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
1 Harvest rainwater for watering plants
Harvesting rainwater not only helps reduce your water bills, your plants will love you for it, too. Untreated rainwater is far better for plant health than the stuff that comes out of our taps. Some experts believe that irrigating with grey water (from the laundry and dishwasher) helps to reduce pests as many are averse to the detergent residues. There are some ingenious rainwater tanks around these days, designed for tricky sites and small urban properties.
2 Be kind to the bees
You’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the plight of our bees. There are various theories about their declining populations but everyone is in agreement about one of the key solutions: more flowers. There’s space in even the tiniest of balcony gardens for some potted bee-friendly blooms such as alyssum, calendula, hebe, echinacea, lavender, rosemary or sunflowers.
3 Start using organic mulches
Mulching is vital for water-wise and weed-free gardens. Organic mulches include bark, tree clippings and pea straw. Pad them out with fallen leaves from parks or the streets, or seaweed from the beach. Sometimes tree companies are happy to give away mulch when doing pruning and maintenance work. You can buy mulch in bags from garden centres or in bulk (or bags) from landscape suppliers such as daltonslandscape.co.nz.
4 Reuse and recycle in the garden
Think sustainably when planning paths and other structural elements in the garden. Used pavers are often sold or given away online and you can reuse pieces of concrete from old paths as stepping stones. Pallets and scrap wood can be used to make planters and fences while fallen branches and bamboo can be turned into bean frames and supports. In colder areas, old windows are ideal as cold frames or for homemade glass houses.
5 Create ‘wild’ areas for pollinators
If you have the space, why not designate part of the garden as a wild area to provide habitat and food for bees and other pollinators? Consider building an insect hotel, too (for inspiration, see greenurbanliving.co.nz). Many insects provide food for pollinators and birds, or they prey on other pests, so resist the urge to destroy them before you’ve worked out what their role is in your garden.
6 Go chemical-free
One of the main culprits in the continuing decline of bees is the prolific use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, according to many experts. Not only do they kill or destabilise pollinators such as bees, they can’t be that good for our own health either. Plants are usually susceptible to pests when they are planted somewhere that doesn’t suit them so try to plant for the conditions in your garden. And if you must kill insects, there are many organic pesticide alternatives available. You can also make your own pesticides and weedkillers; just search online for recipes.
7 Lend a helping hand to the community
One of the great gardening traditions is to give plants and surplus produce away to friends and neighbours. You may have an elderly neighbour who would love some of your excess lettuces or lemons, for instance. The local community or school garden might like some spare rhubarb plants that you don’t have room for. And there are many charities providing free school lunches or food for the homeless who would be happy to take surplus produce off your hands.
8 Share seeds and cuttings
Many gardeners share seeds or seedlings with fellow gardeners if they have some to spare. Others will get together and plan what they’ll each grow that season for the same reason. Groups such as Ooooby (Out of Our Own Backyard; ooooby.ning.com – search for ‘New Zealand Seed and Plant Exchange under ‘Groups’) and various local libraries offer seed exchanges.
9 Start composting food scraps
One of the best ways to improve your own health and that of the planet is to compost food scraps. Put simply, the micro-organisms in compost make your soil, and therefore the food you grow in it, much healthier. Composting also dramatically reduces landfill volumes and helps lower carbon emissions. If you don’t have space for a compost bin consider a worm farm or bokashi bucket.
10 Teach children some gardening skills
Encouraging children to have time away from electronic devices is essential for their wellbeing – and what better way to do that than out in the garden? Teach your kids how to grow vegetables that are delicious to eat straight from the garden, such as peas, beans and carrots. Show them which home-grown herbs work best in their favourite recipes or let them choose an indoor plant for their bedroom which they can learn how to care for.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Nick Scott, Ben Dearnley/bauersyndication.com.au, Getty Images, supplied.