‘Open our eyes to the power of nature.’ As Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 draws to a close, this is what we are being encouraged to do, and if you are one of the 95% of Brits who reported wellbeing benefits from spending time in nature during the last year’s initial lockdown, you’ve probably realised this already. Research shows having access to greenery can reduce levels of stress and anxiety while gardening for just 30 minutes per week can significantly improve mood.
But, how can we experience these benefits more often? By practising mindful gardening. Put simply, mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment; combined with gardening; it’s a powerful tool. We’ve spoken to mindful gardening experts to learn more. To Ali Battye, a.k.a. The Mindful Gardener, mindful gardening is the idea of being ‘totally focussed on the task at hand’ as well as ‘appreciating the natural world.’ She found this process very comforting and therapeutic during the lockdown.
Here are seven ways to practice mindful gardening with whatever nature you have access to.
Focus on floral fragrances
Image credit: Ali Battye
Ali, who can often be found with her nose in a Rose head in her beautiful Kent-based garden, recommends inhaling natural scents as a way of being more mindful. The smell is an underused sense, but it’s actually a powerful, grounding activity, she says.
‘You come out of whatever else is going on in your life and just enjoy the scent.’
Like our gut microbiome, we also have a lung microbiome, she adds.
‘Spending time outdoors each day is stimulating our lungs and giving them something interesting to work with.’
If you’re unable to get outside as often as you’d like, Ali recommends growing Basil indoors for its aromatic scent.
Tune into nature’s sounds
Studies have found that nature sounds can help us to relax. Also a speech and language therapist, Ali has a keen interest in how our brain interprets noise.
‘We are really good at filtering out noises that we don’t need to hear,’ she explains, ‘we don’t [necessarily] hear birdsong or leaves rustling, etc.; they’re there for us, but we just have to notice them, and you can train your brain to listen out for those sounds.’
But, what should we listen out for? The obvious sound is birdsong, says Ali. Recent research also shows birdsong, in particular, can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. Open your window or door and see if you can identify which birds you can hear tweeting.
Take a mindful walk
Getting outside for a walk is Ali’s top tip for our well-being. Even if you’re just standing by your door or sitting by the window (preferably with it open), there’s a benefit, she claims. Feeling our feet on the ground and observing natural sights, such as trees swaying in the wind, can also help us present. Ali explains this can encourage us to enter the “flow state” – a state in which you’re completely immersed in the activity being performed.
‘You’re not distracted by worries or anxieties, you’re not ruminating over the past or projecting into the future,’ she continues.
Exercising outdoors has also been proven to reduce stress and boost our mood.
Meditate with houseplants
Before you think we’ve gone completely loopy, hear us out. Evidence shows meditating with houseplants can cultivate a calmer mental state, plus it’s ideal if you have little or no outdoor space. But, just how do we do it?
Talking to HeraldScotland.com, psychologist Dr Katie Cooper, who owns 200 houseplants and recently published a book about meditating with houseplants, explains it’s more of an applied form of meditation. Writing in the Bloombox Club blog, she shares tips for getting started:
- Begin in a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the ground.
- Inhale slowly and deeply, connecting with the relative stillness of the plant(s) before you.
- Observe the plant's foliage, form and colour, before touching your plant's soil.
- Pour water into each planter, listening to the sound of water sink into the soil.
- During your meditation, silently state an intention for your plant and/or for yourself.
Katie recommends meditating with plants that have interesting form or shape or require extra engagement, such as Alocasia, Calathea, Swiss Cheese Plant, Wandering Dude 'Violet' and plants featuring fronds.
Create a mindful sanctuary with the collection below:
Gardening for Wellbeing
Border-in-a-BoxWellbeing Ready-made Garden Border Design Kit
PurpleBloomSeedsGrow Your Own Herbal Bath Tonic Kit
Mywishtree1The Rose Garden 30CL Hand Poured Mineral Blend Wax Candle
PurpleBloomSeedsGrow Your Own Mindfulness - Calm - Herbal Tea Kit
RebelPlantsPropagation Station, Cutting Vase
SandyplantpotHouseplant Perlite Potting Soil 400g
Let go by weeding
This is the idea of using weeding as a visualisation for consciously letting go of unwanted negative thoughts and stressors in our lives, while also engaging our touch sense. With each weed you pull out, imagine you are removing anxieties and worries. Ali has experienced this for herself.
‘Weeding is therapeutic along with pruning and deadheading,’ she claims.
‘In fact, deadheading is my number one stress-buster; not only are you making the flower look better, but the result is a really pretty bucket with colour and texture combinations you hadn’t planned but that complement each other.’
Be present when planting
Image credit: flickr.com/photos/plant-for-the-planet; image cropped
Horticulturist, mindfulness practitioner and author of RHS Gardening for Mindfulness Holly Farrell agrees ‘mindfulness and gardening go hand in hand’ and that planting sensory plants in the garden, such as tactile grasses or soft plants like Lamb’s Ears, is an effective way to bring us to the present through their sensory prompts such as fragrance, texture or sound.
Holly adds: ‘Planting an individual plant is an act of nurture – a commitment to look after that plant – and making sure the hole is big enough, feeling the compost/soil under your fingers as you firm it in and watching the glint of light through the water as you water it are all opportunities to stop thinking and be present in the moment.’
Image credit: Ali Battye
Holly actively appreciates her dainty courtyard garden, which despite its size, is brimming with wildlife and explains how you can show appreciation for nature too.
‘Gratitude is easy to practice in the garden or with a single houseplant; it's about seeing the plant(s) properly, noticing its details and being thankful for the beauty and bounty it might provide,’ she says.
Holly suggests keeping a garden journal to jot down observations or draw sketches of plants and other things in the garden.
‘Over time, this practice can lead to being generally more observant, mindful and thankful in everyday life, which helps us to connect with nature and the world around us.’
This article is part of Candide's Festival of Flowers, an online floral take over, aiming to unite the nation in a joyful celebration of gardens, plants, pollinators and people! Read more from the series and learn more about this weeks theme of mental health and well being below.