Ask any keen gardener why they enjoy gardening and many will say it's because it
makes them feel good. Research shows that gardening in groups can improve
communication, help with learning new skills, and improve confidence. Here at
Thames Lodge in Southall, staff are using the power of nature to help
patients rediscover lost social skills and recover from mental illness.
"Today we are are in the process of thinning out some of the strawberries from the beds, we are
repotting some of our produce which has been sown earlier on in the season and
we're preparing some of the beds ready for planting when the frost goes at the
end of next month. I think the patients like being out here because it's a
physical activity that gets them to do something useful and
purposeful with their lives, they're learning at the same time, and also the physical
benefits of working outdoors and eating fresh produce you can't be overstated.
"It's a great way of stimulating and helping their mental health recovery."
"The joy in their face when they're out here and to see the progress of the crops you
know, it's that 'oh look what I've done I planted this last week look at
this' and you can see that it's, you know, like brownie points to them - that's how
they feel and they're keen to water, they're keen to feed, and they just get on
with it because they're that keen.
"When they first arrive they say 'oh can I see
what's grown this week?' So they're looking at the progress from last week
when they were down.
"I've seen people's moods improve partly because I think
they're out in the fresh air and sometimes it can feel like a bit of a
closed atmosphere if you're on the ward and the routine might be the same every
day, whereas with gardening you've got things and task to do. One of the
memorable moments and breakthrough for me was when one of our service users who
had enormous communication problems was doing some watering and actually thanked
me at the end of the session. He didn't speak much to other service users
or staff and I felt as though I was getting through to his mental health recovery in
helping him experience gardening and the joys of doing that.
"They're happy, they see what's been grown
- what they have grown, and that's the most important thing."
Of course, it's not only people in hospital who can benefit from the
positive effects of gardening. So as the weather is improving, maybe it's time we
all took down our phones, donned our wellies, and got our hands dirty.
The perfect antidote to a stressful modern life