A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness in the GardenColin Campbell-Preston
Mindfulness is the mental state of being calmly and consciously aware of what is happening in our body and mind, as well as in our surrounding area. Stemming from ancient Buddhist traditions and practices; increased mindfulness can help us improve our mental clarity, concentration, emotional flexibility, empathy and tolerance whilst also reducing stress and rumination.
Meditation is, perhaps, the most common method to achieve mindfulness, with experts suggesting that we sit still, focus on our breathing and allow thoughts to come and go without judgement. However, there are many ways to practice mindfulness, and one which is proving increasingly popular is gardening.
We’ve all experienced the pure peace and tranquillity which comes with gardening at least once – when beautiful flowers make their first appearance of the year, when the light wonderfully bounces off leaves and when the air seems to emit a warming, welcoming glow. Losing yourself in gardening during these wonderful times can bring you close to absolute mindfulness bliss.
And if you believe that mindfulness is beginning to sound like new age hokum, the NHS has started to research the mental state in greater detail in recent years, endorsing the technique and lauding the results. The NHS Choices website includes a detailed entry about mindfulness, and its benefits.
Simply getting out into the garden a couple of times a week can have a huge benefit on our mental welfare, but this can be increased and furthered with a few mindfulness techniques. So, here we’re exploring how to maximise mindfulness whilst gardening, and we’ve added a few endorsements from trusted sources so you know we’re not just trying to trick you into gardening.
Steps to Practising Mindfulness in the Garden
Whilst just heading into the garden for a few hours will always offer physical and mental health benefits, there are steps you can take to help aid and assist the pursuit of mindfulness. Here are our five main steps for practising mindfulness in the garden.
Refrain from judgement – Try not to judge any ideas which come into your head, or any evidence of previous gardening in front of you. Simply go about the tasks as they need doing, helping you retain a sense of calm and approach mindfulness.
Follow your instinct – If something feels right, go for it. In the pursuit of mindfulness, there is no room for second guessing. Let your instinct take control for once, listening to yourself and reacting to the changes in the garden around you. As you become increasingly aware of your surroundings and your garden, your instincts will likely grow sharper and more accurate.
Ignore the clock – Don’t set yourself a deadline for the day’s gardening, simply let it end when you are good and ready. A set deadline will act as a barrier between you and mindfulness, inhibiting your ability to effectively shut off from the distractions around. Only stop when you feel ready, the sun goes in or you feel pangs of hunger.
Indulge all your senses – Mindfulness is at its very core the act of finding yourself and your surroundings. Use all of your senses to explore your garden. Kick off your shoes, pop a podded pea into your mouth, leave the radio indoors, look around and smell your surroundings. Really lose yourself in your garden, experiencing it with all of your senses.
Find your flow – The final step to attaining total mindfulness is finding your ‘flow’ – the term used when you’re completely absorbed in an activity. Working systematically without distraction is, perhaps, the shortest route to finding your flow, but when you’re there, you will have achieved something close to perfect mindfulness.
Endorsements for Practising Mindfulness in the Garden
Naturally, we’re slightly biased in favour of gardening. But, there are plenty of trusted, experienced sources who agree that gardening is a wonderful and effective way to achieve mindfulness. Here are just a few names who have lent their credentials to practising mindfulness in the garden, and the overall health benefits of gardening.
This year, the National Gardens Scheme commissioned and released a report from the King’s Fund regarding the positive impact gardening can have on public health. In it, they have included support from industry experts and government figures, throwing their support behind gardening’s ability to aid physical and mental health.
Mary Berry CBE, President of the National Gardens Scheme, said: “I have long been aware of the therapeutic benefits of gardening and visiting gardens and how being outside in lovely surroundings, in the fresh air, is so good for our wellbeing.”
Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, said: “Gardening improves your mental and physical health – it keeps you active, it can help people with dementia to feel calm and relaxed, and coming together to tend a garden tackles social isolation. This report will be a helpful resource for local areas as they help people to lead healthier lives.”
Outside of the report, we spoke to George Plumptre, Chief Executive of The National Gardens Scheme, and he had this to say:
“In my experience active gardeners know, either intrinsically or from their own experiences, that gardening is good for your health. More recently, through a report commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme from The King’s Fund, we are able to confidently demonstrate that gardens can play a role in promoting good health and preventing ill-health, with potential long-term effects on healthcare costs.”
Gardening for mental health even has its own charity, Thrive, to spread awareness and drive interest in this effective method of helping to bring positive changes to the lives of people living with ill health or disabilities. We spoke to Thrive’s Communications and PR Manager, Alyson Chorley, about what the charity is hoping to achieve by encouraging more people out into the garden:
“Gardening is an opportunity to improve our health and quality of life and at Thrive we have seen first-hand how a sustained and active interest can lead to better physical and mental health. As well as the strong therapeutic value of gardening it can help people connect with others, reducing feelings of isolation and break down social barriers.
“Gardening in a structured way on a project like Thrive’s also teaches people new skills in a relaxed, open environment which boosts confidence and self-esteem.
“John, a former client gardener at Thrive who now works for the charity one day a week, said that gardening helped him get back into society, following years of isolation, homelessness and mental ill health.”
At Capital Gardens, we have long championed the health benefits of gardening, for both mental and physical health. We believe more should be done to spread awareness of the benefits of gardening, helping as many people as possible.