A few years ago, at just this time of the year I was bang in the middle of a hormonal midlife tizz and I was dwelling on how great gardening is for the mind. Here is what I wrote about gardening:
Today the sun finally deigned to shine and I spent a fantastic few hours in the garden, followed by a couple of great pals dropping by for tea and making all the right complimentary noises about my hard work. I am sitting here enjoying feeling sunburnt and stiff and happier than I have felt for a while. There are times when I am truly thankful that I discovered gardening. It has carried me through some of my darkest hours. Times when I have been so flattened and made leaden by chronic depression that I couldn’t bear to get out of bed I have found solace in garden books, seed catalogues and making endless lists of things to do in the garden. When I can’t bear to see or talk to anyone, or felt overwhelmed by despair a day’s digging, planning and moving plants about has given me a sense of purpose. Getting outdoors, walking the dog, swimming and gardening or in Marion Keyes case, baking cakes) really is, if not a cure, a great way to, if not silence, but distract the buzzing, violent demons who colonise the mind with morose and self-loathing thoughts . Sometimes just when you think you are on top of things and happy as a lark, some crushing blow – a vile snub or a once valued friendship turned sour will send you back into the doldrums, but rather than take to the bed try messing about with compost, cutting and edging the grass, re-potting and sweeping, feeling the sun on your back and losing yourself in hard physical labour. There is something about hard and repetitive work out of doors that is incredibly soothing. I suppose there is a scientific and rational basis for why gardening makes one feel at peace – many northern Europeans suffer from vitamin D deficiency, and even when out in low light levels we are absorbing more than those who are house or desk bound and vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and anxiety. Exercise is also good for the mind and body and produces endorphins which boost feelings of well-being and self-esteem as well as having an analgesic effect. The sense of achievement is particularly rewarding; a tidy lawn, a weed-free border, well propped and staked plants or a row of neatly top-dressed pots seems to bring order to an untidy mind and messy thoughts are tucked away. Another reason to get outside and garden is that it is cheap, much cheaper than a shrink. Start hanging around Church of Ireland garden fetes and local plant sales and you will pick up plants for next to nothing. Save seed and beg cuttings or divisions from friends, do your own landscaping and use cheap recycled materials and be creative. I promise you it works, no matter how feeble you patch, even if it’s just a balcony, get out there and start digging.