As a new gardening year begins, we should count our blessings, relax and enjoy our gardens.
This week and next, I'll look at why we should enjoy working and being in the garden and not girn about the hassle it causes.
Most of us get a buzz from gardening and simply feel better after an afternoon sowing, planting or weeding. Following a taxing day at work, pottering around watering or deadheading plants helps you unwind. I enjoy a wonderful sense of release, as if I were going on holiday, when a day of gardening stretches out before me. When working with groups, I've also seen how stressed and disabled people feel much better after a stint of gardening.
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I owed a lot to my garden following an accident where an overhead sign on the M8 blew out in a storm and I was struck by a fragment, leaving me only just alive. On the long road to recovery, I began to look afresh at life and valued it as I never had before. Watching the magic of plants growing, looking beyond myself and marvelling at life as a whole, was deeply restorative.
Writing in the Royal Horticultural Society members' magazine in November, Lalage Snow highlighted the almost miraculous power of gardening, describing how people in Afghanistan and on both sides of the Israel-Palestine border keep going because of their gardens.
One Israeli, Nair Dubaidi, living in a kibbutz close to the border, had completely rebuilt his garden after it had been destroyed by missile fire in 2009. The Afghanis did much the same on a grander scale. The Gardens of Babur in Kabul, built by the first Mogul emperor in the 16th century, had decayed over the centuries till there was nothing left of it under the Taliban. Then in 2002 Afghanis started to rebuild this beautiful garden, and 300,000 people now visit it every year. With few private gardens in Kabul, folk flock to the Gardens of Babur.
Recent research has confirmed what these war-weary gardeners know instinctively. In 2007, a study at the University of Essex found "green exercise" was invaluable for mentally ill and stressed people. Green exercise covered several activities, with a little over half of the participants in the trial choosing gardening. Taking part had benefited their mental health, according to 94%, and 90% also felt physically better.
Blessed are those with a garden, seems to be the message. In a major Dutch study 12 years ago, Sjerp de Vries and colleagues found that while everyone living close to trees and parks lived healthier lives than those in solidly built-up areas, folk with gardens fared even better. As recently as two months ago, the Landscape Institute also reported that such people simply felt better, were far less isolated and were freer from antisocial behaviour.
We talk about concrete jungles, but it's become clear we're programmed to need our jungles to be green. Until very recently - the blink of an eye in the story of man - people saw themselves as part of their environment. They respected and were terrified by the ferocity of nature and invented gods to protect them. But our natural link with the rest of the world has been broken as we fondly imagine there's no problem human ingenuity won't solve. Far too many children - and not a few adults - don't realise that mince once chewed the cud and peas grew in a field. But gardening helps restore the link with the real world. Next week, I'll explore how this happens.