Sam Ward is Horticulture Lead at Flower Pod, a cut flower garden in Nottinghamshire providing horticultural activities for adults with learning disabilities. The social enterprise is part of Reach, which supports people across the county.
It’s gone very quiet in the Flower Pod garden. Like lots of other organisations, we’ve had to close our gates to visitors. And this includes all our clients and volunteers who would normally be spending this time waking up the garden after winter, planting out lots of seedlings and starting to crop our first flowers of the season. But while this is a difficult time – especially for people with learning disabilities who can be among the most socially isolated in our communities – we can at least carry on gardening. In fact, I’d say it’s essential to the mental health of the nation, and it’s brilliant that Harmless is dedicated this week’s blogs to gardening and nature.
One reason to be hopeful is that this pandemic has come at a time when gardens are bursting to life – and that means there’s plenty to do. So long as you are well and remain a safe distance from your neighbours, your garden can keep you healthy in mind, body and spirit. At Flower Pod we take advantage of this all year round as we provide Social and Therapeutic Horticulture – an approach to improving people’s wellbeing and confidence that is fast gaining support among healthcare professionals.
An important part of this approach is the idea that looking after gardens requires us to take careful notice of small things. Nurturing the first fragile shoot of a seedling, spotting daffodils that need dead-heading, the flight path of a bee as it works its way around the blossom. These are simple and physically undemanding things. But while we’re taking notice, focused and calm, the stresses and strains of the rest of the world are forgotten and we live in the moment. Taking notice is one of the five key ways to wellbeing that Harmless talk about in their training – and it just happens to be integral to gardening.
Gardening is also a long-term endeavour, making us think beyond the next few days or weeks – also helpful when the present might feel anxious. Taking care of plants (and the animals that rely on them) isn’t about immediate or one-off rewards. It requires us to be patient and understand that things will always change and might sometimes go wrong. This is never permanent because nature works in cycles. Many of the people who garden at Flower Pod can experience profound anxiety, and the ability to work on something where they can have a go and not worry about failure is so important to what we can offer them. My favourite quote from everyone’s favourite gardener, Monty Don (who has talked about his own struggles with mental ill health), says that ‘a garden is not a place – it’s a journey’.
So we encourage our gardeners to engage in the whole process of a plant’s life – from sowing the seed in the polytunnel in winter, to potting on, planting out, and cropping and using the flowers in our bouquets and confetti. This is a slow, forgiving and creative process which, with a bit a bit of support, anyone can access. Of course, that accessibility just got a bit harder. But we’re delivering activity packs to our clients right now so they can carry on gardening. It’s not just about stemming the boredom that lockdown is bringing with it. It will also give them something positive to focus on and to look ahead to the future – the sunflower seeds we sent out will be in flower later this year and hopefully when we re-open we’ll share in their enjoyment.
Of course, gardening might also involve physical exercise – another of the ways to wellbeing, and a good way to stay active while gyms and leisure centres are closed. Here are some thing you can be doing right now.
- Plant potatoes – you can get seed potatoes from your local garden centre – many of them are providing delivery services
- Weeding – leave weeds to feed the pollinators, then dig them up when you see seeds so they don’t take over
- Deadhead faded flowers – most plants will keep flowering longer if you take off the old blooms
- Sow sweet pea seeds – these are easy and you can grow them in a pot, with some pea sticks to climb up
- Keep watering young plants – it’s been a dry April and seedlings are still growing roots to help themselves to a drink
While Flower Pod is closed, we’re posting mindful moments from the garden, short videos to help relax and distract anyone that needs it. See our Instagram @FlowerPod_Official or follow us on Facebook @FlowerPodSouthwell to see our #30seconds of spring and listen to the birdsong.
Sam and his colleagues have benefited from Harmless’s free Mental Health Awareness training for third sector workers in Nottinghamshire. You can find out more about this training and others on our Eventbrite page.