Gardening for mental health and well-being
March 2022   BODY & MIND

Gardening for mental health and well-being

Danny Clarke explains why spending time outside gardening can help your mental well-being and is great for stress relief.
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Gardening, taps into the biophilia hypothesis, the human instinct to have connection with nature and living things.  It’s also the perfect hobby to pick up if you want to share more quality time with family, start new conversations with friends – old and new – or even have a good excuse to regularly check-in with older family members for tips and advice. 

Gardening is not only good for your health, but also a kickstarter for countless conversations with friends, family and neighbours. 

Professional garden designer Danny Clarke – aka The Black Gardener – who appears on the BBC’s Instant Gardener and has been working in horticulture for more than 20 years, explains why gardening is the perfect stress-care hobby. 

So, is everyone gardening now? 

Without a shadow of a doubt – there were 64 per cent more plants planted during March to June in 2020 compared to the corresponding time the previous year. More plants, more flowers, more trees, it’s great for wildlife. 

How did you become a gardener? 

My parents would throw me out into the garden with a rusty pair of shears to tidy the lawn or ‘find a four-leaf clover’ just to get me out of the house – I’d spend ages looking for that clover! When I got my own plot of land, I was always trying to improve it and before long I was hooked. I got really fussy about my lawn, I’d cut the grass in the morning before I went to work, then in the evening when I got back, twice a day. That’s the secret, keep cutting it, it’ll thicken up. 

Great tip. How did you turn pro? 

I got a call out of the blue, asking if I could help with a friend’s garden. She’d be outside with me (we used to talk a lot) and she taught me a different way of looking at the wild. She’d see me looking at grey skies and not liking the idea of gardening and say ‘Danny, what a dramatic day it is, don’t those grey skies look wonderful?’ and she’d make me see the beauty in everything, calling me over to look at the dewdrops glistening on a spider’s web or a small flower growing out of a crevice. 

Sounds like the kind of conversations that can really lift you? 

Yes, she taught me about how beautiful the small things in life are – the things most people look past and ignore. Chatting in a such a relaxed environment gives you the opportunity to find out how people are really feeling. 

What do you like about gardening? 

It gives me freedom, freedom of thought. When I’m in the garden, it clears the cobwebs in my mind and gives me clarity, it puts everything into perspective. When you’re indoors, it can feel like the walls are closing in, but if you go gardening, you’re close to nature and you’re exercising – so you release those endorphins into the brain – so it’s good for the soul, good for the mind and good for the body. 

Ideal for managing stress then? 

You get lost in it. If I’m weeding, I’m just thinking about doing the weeding not my other issues. If I’m putting some seeds in pots, I’m just in that moment and whatever is going on in the world has no significance to me – it’s such a good de-stresser. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than birds tweeting, and you witness things in nature that last a lifetime. 

Right, sold. I want to garden, but I know nothing… 

Really, gardening to most of us is just cutting grass, weeding and putting a few plants in the ground, that’s all it is. If you can dig a hole, you can garden. You don’t need to know all the science behind gardening. 

It seems like quite a bit of hard work though… 

People go into their garden and think, ‘that’s going to be a lot of work’. But the secret is to do little and often, and not look at it as a chore, but something to enjoy – look at it as your gym. When you get started, you soon get addicted. 

Gardening is addictive?! 

Yes, you get a lot of satisfaction from it. Take for instance when you’ve spent time weeding a bed, then you stand back and it looks great and think ‘I did that’. It’s like interior design, you’re making a difference to your space. 

What if you don’t have a garden? 

You can have plants indoors, and the great thing about that is you’re not restricted by the seasons. You don’t have to worry if it’s too cold for your plants if you’re indoors and you can have the same plants all year around, and grow a greater variety, because the temperature doesn’t change. 

But I don’t know anything about plants? 

People are often worried about plants and not knowing enough to be a gardener. But, when you buy a plant it has a label that tells you what that plant wants – where to put it, what condition it likes, how tall it grows. You don’t need to know Latin names. Dig a hole in the garden, you can’t make a mistake, just go out and do it. 

On my own? 

It’s a very sociable thing to do – with your kids or your partner. And it’s a great ice breaker with neighbours, you can end up chatting over the fence, exchanging plants or cuttings or just putting the world to rights – which can’t be a bad thing, can it? 

Suppose not. 

Just give it a go, but don’t rush into it, take your time. Gardening slows you down, you have to be patient because things don’t grow immediately, you can’t rush them. You nurture, like your children: water them, feed them, talk to them and they will respond positively. 

When you finally get into it, you’ll soon find an hour’s gone past and it feels like minutes. 


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