Let's grow together and get social this September

I’m a big fan of pottering in my greenhouse, nurturing seedlings and getting lost in the moment. For me it’s very relaxing and can provide a welcome relief from a busy life, and provide some time for mindful contemplation. But gardening doesn’t have be a solitary affair, for the big jobs in our garden, it’s always much better when MOH is involved, but it can be more than that too. Gardens and gardening can bring people together to share their experiences, and on allotments also the crops and flowers they grow.

Togetherness too has great value for our mental wellbeing, relieves boredom and provides social contact. Gardening clubs or events at the local garden centre are a good place to look for events that bring people together. But more community gardens are popping up around the country too, providing the opportunity for people to harden together, and it’s no wonder gardening is recommended for therapy and rehabilitation by health professionals.

Whether you’re swapping seeds, seedlings and spare plants - at work we have an online community for just this, trying to offload a glut of courgettes, or as in my previous job a colleague’s Bramley apples (yes please!), or asking for help to solve problems, sharing our love and knowledge of gardening helps us all grow together (and yes, pun intended)

Volunteer your gardening skills

Many of the finest gardens in the country welcome volunteers who can help in their gardens, if this is something you’re interested in, these links are a good starting point:

Alstroemeria © Adam Pasco Media

Alstroemeria © Adam Pasco Media

The gift of growing

Plants make a great gift, and are more sustainable than cut flowers. This month garden centres and nurseries are full of beautiful plants with seasonal colour, fruits and berries - yes, summer is on its way out for another year.

Look out for:

  • Long-flowering Alstroemeria (pictured above)

  • Hydrangea

  • Hebe

  • Pansies and violas

  • Heathers

  • Bluebeard and Chinese Plumbago - both blue plants, which I’m sure you’ll recognise.

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Immerse yourself in a sensory experience this August

Gardening is good for you and can provide your own private sensory experience when you fill your garden with plants that excite the senses. Whether that’s colour, scent, flavours, tactile appeal or just their calming rustling and movement, which are just a few ways we benefit from having plants in our lives.

Plants can create vibrant and stimulating gardens for play and entertaining, using bold shapes and bright colours that stimulate the senses. In complete contrast though plants can also be used to make calming, private and secluded spaces. A tranquil garden that calms the senses can provide the perfect place to sit and relax, and in turn help relieve stress and improve our mental health and wellbeing.

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Colour plays a big part in garden design, bold colours like yellow, orange and red are vibrant and uplifting. Colours like blue, mauve, violet and green are more calming, and are good to use for areas designed for rest and relaxation.

Tall, dense boundary hedges and planting can reduce annoying noise from roads and neighbours and create a feeling of shelter and protection. But sound is important too in a sensory garden, perhaps it’s the wind gently rocking and rustling the branches of trees, a robin perched high-up entertaining with its song, bees busily collected pollen, or the calming sound of trickling water.

All gardens though have the power to heal and contribute to a healthier and happier life, and I’m sure that your garden, like mine, also provides exercise as well as a sense of achievement, when it’s finally a little more under control. I mean, a garden’s never really done is it?

Research has highlighted how valuable contact with plants is to our health, both through the beauty and colour, or non-visual stimulation of touch, taste, smell or hearing the natural sounds around us. A multi-sensory garden evokes a direct physiological response both consciously and unconsciously, affecting our mood, relieving stress, evoking memories, relieving boredom, stimulation conversation or just by tapping into the healing power of nature.

Quiet ‘me time’

Silent Space is a project promoting peaceful time in green and tranquil spaces, somewhere to switch off your phone, escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and let your body and mind wander. Several gardens are supporting this initiative, and there could be a garden close to you.

Plants to excite the senses

Virtually every plant will stimulate one sense or another, so whether you’re looking for something colourful, tactile, fragrant or flavoursome there are plants available to enjoy throughout the year. Be creative by developing displays along paths and around areas where you sit, so you can get up close to the plants you choose.

Sensory plants include:

  • Tactile plants: plants with soft, hairy or textured leaves, stems or bark such as ornamental grasses, Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’, Santolia, Jerusalem Sage and Lamb’s Ear.

  • Scented plants: plants with fragrant flowers and foliage such as Lavender, scented leaf Pelargoniums, Catnip and Wormwood.

  • Swaying and rustling plants, such as tall, graceful ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, Stipa, Pampas grass and Bamboo.

  • Tasty plants including culinary herbs like sage, thyme, chives, parsley, basil and ornamental angelica, plus fruits from trees and bushes, soft fruits like strawberries, and vegetable crips and delicious salad leaves which grown in your own garden, will have very low airmiles.

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Enjoy summertime in the garden this July

Gardening is good for you, but so is spending some time enjoying your garden. Whether that’s starting the day with tea and toast on the patio, relaxing in the shade, dining alfresco or chilling after a busy day at the office. Bright mornings, sunny days and hopefully warm balmy evenings tempt us outside to enjoy a dose of green therapy, boosting our mood and recharging our batteries.

Incorporating spaces to relax, socialise and have fun in our gardens is important, and so’s the furniture we choose. While not many of us will actually have a hammock, I bet when you saw it your first thought was relaxing, the second was probably how on earth am I going to get into that!

July relaxation-2633037.jpg

Plants bring us closer to nature, improving our mood and relieving depression, even taking away aches and pains and speeding up rehabilitation after illness, and improving our mental health. That feeling of wellbeing you get from just being outside comes from a boost of what have colloquially been called ‘outdoorphins’ - it’s no secret that Greenwich Park is one of my happy places.

Plants of the moment for instant colour and displays

There’s plenty of choice at garden centres and nurseries which will add instant colour and impact to our gardens. Many are ready-planted in larger patio pots and hanging baskets that can be put straight outside to enjoy with minimal effort. Often they’re already in bloom too, so there’s instant bonuses, but it also makes them easier to coordinate with our existing plants, and our furniture and accessories.

As well as ornamental plants, don’t forget the pots of tomatoes, chillies and strawberries as well as vegetables, salads, fruits and herbs. There’s nothing better than picking - and eating - crops you’ve grown yourself.

Look for:

  • Bedding plants like Begonia, Verbena, Petunias, Pelargoniums (a favourite of mine), Lobelia, Dahlias and Zinnias.

  • Hardy perennials like Geranium, Echinacea, Phlox, Astrantia (I must buy myself some of these), Salvia, Penstemon, and Heucheras - which is just a great word to say!

  • Shrubs like Hydrangea, Hebe, Choisya, Phormium and Yucca, or perhaps a climbing rose, Clematis, Honeysuckle or Jasmine - and the balmy evenings will really bring out their scent.

  • Fruit and vegetables like Strawberries, Tomatoes, Chillies and Peppers, Squash, salad plants and potted herbs. Tasty as well as bringing colour to your garden.

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