While we are all looking forward to Covid restrictions being eased, many of us will probably still be spending a lot of time at home over the coming months. For those of us with gardens, it certainly seems that our outdoor space has become more important to us than ever. With this in mind, I was delighted to be invited recently by The Gardening with Disabilities Trust to share some ideas about gardens and gardening. This post, first published on their website, is aimed at helping you to enhance your garden this year with improvements – big and small.
Water Features & Ponds
Water features and ponds are hard to beat for adding a focal point to a garden and enhancing the use of the space. A well-chosen water feature adds sound and light while bringing in beneficial wildlife too. Even a bird bath can make a huge difference. As nearly 70 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside in the last century, water features and ponds are more important to wildlife than ever. Ponds develop fast because many of their inhabitants are highly mobile. Within a short time after installation, your garden will attract birds, amphibians, insects, mammals and plenty of ‘mini-beasts’ you might never otherwise see. Watching a pond attract wildlife is very rewarding – as the poem goes, ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ….’.
Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can lower stress and increase our sense of well-being. This peaceful, meditative state has been termed the ‘blue mind’ by marine biologist Wallace Nichols. It is the opposite of the overloaded, busy ‘red mind’ that affects so many of us in our everyday lives. To quote Nichols: ‘Water is medicine for those who need it most…and everyone else’. So adding water to your garden really can boost your mental health as well as your overall enjoyment of the space..
Many of us have good memories of camping trips, with time spent sitting by the fire telling stories, enjoying tasty food and warming drinks. The good news is that if you add a fire pit to your garden, you don’t have to go far to recreate those memories. Possibly one of the best reasons to consider installing a fire pit is that it allows you to enjoy the seasons for longer. Since it offers both warmth and beauty, you will be able to enjoy your garden early in the spring season and later into autumn. There’s something about a fire pit that encourages great conversation too. From my own experience, they create a wonderful social space for family and friends to spend time together.
According to anthropologist Christopher Lynn, fires are a multisensory experience owing to their ‘flickering light, crackling sounds, warmth, and a distinctive smell’. Lynn points out that for early humans, fire likely extended the day, provided heat, helped with hunting, warded off predators and insects, illuminated dark places, and facilitated cooking. Open air fires may also have provided social connections and relaxation effects. Recent studies have shown that relaxing near an open fire can lower blood pressure, providing a physical health benefit as well as a mental health ‘bonus’.
Over recent years, we have had more and more clients ask us about edible gardening. Pottering about in your own kitchen garden and selecting a few home-grown herbs or vegetables is a wonderful way to spend time outdoors. If you are short on space, easy-care herbs are also a natural fit for a vertical garden. All you need is a way to hang containers or contain soil on a vertical surface – for example, a ladder planter fixed against the wall. Even a single large container can be added as an accent piece, or several smaller pots grouped together in an attractive arrangement. Installing raised beds to grow your own fruit and vegetables offers a number of advantages, from the practical (longer growing season, less back-ache) to the aesthetic (they look good!).
According to The Vegan Society, growing your own fruit and vegetables is time well spent in terms of both physical and mental health benefits. ‘Gardening is a great way to combat stress and anxiety … the various tasks involved in producing greens for your kitchen table, from planting seeds to harvesting vegetables, are sure to increase your daily activity.’ It can also be hugely rewarding to nurture a plant ‘from garden to table’ – especially if you create enough food to share with your neighbours, friends and family, helping to spread a love of food that is plastic-free, has a low carbon footprint and has been subjected to little or no pesticide use.
One of the many joys of gardens and gardening is to appreciate a garden’s journey over the years. There is no end-point when you nurture a garden. In any case your own needs and requirements are likely to change over time. I hope that the suggestions here have been good ‘prompts’ as you think about your own outdoor space. And that whatever you do gives you even more enjoyment from your time outdoors over the coming months and beyond. For more garden ideas, do browse our residential garden case studies or follow me on Twitter @gardencomp.
This post first appeared as a guest blog on The Gardening with Disabilities Trust’s website.