To say that this year has been a challenge would be an understatement. I think it’s fair to say that we have all felt the strains that came with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation and fear that followed.
None more so than those without a green space to retreat to in times of need. More than 8 million people in the UK had no access to any kind of garden space during lockdown. I can’t begin to imagine what that period of isolation did to the mental and physical wellbeing of all those people, which is why I feel happy and relieved, as we go into this next period of restrictions, that the gardens and parks remain open. I was very fortunate that I had a new garden to work in and enjoy during lockdown but only six months previous, I was living in a flat and I thank my blessings that I was able to enjoy the sun on my skin and the freedom to roam and continue to do the thing I love most, gardening.
I have touched on this subject in a previous blog ‘Benefits of Gardening’ and highlighted some of the areas that simply being outside can have on your wellbeing. The benefits that gardening can offer you physically are abundant but not quite so immediate as the effect that gardening and being in nature has on your mental wellbeing. Research shows that a 10% increase in exposure to green spaces translates into an improvement in health equivalent to being 5 years younger. Don’t worry I’m not going to throw lots of statistics at you because as impressive as they are they just don’t capture the joy and peace that can be found in nature. I’m going to tell you how being outside makes me feel and maybe it might make you feel intrigued to venture out into nature too.
I love being outside and I chose to change my career shortly before I turned 40 so that I could work outside every day and it was by far the best decision I have ever made. I just live for those moments when I’m alone and the sky and land around me just shows me a glimpse of true ethereal beauty. Those early mornings when I would arrive at the plant nursery, completely alone with the frost was still thawing, the sky was intensely blue and the air fresh. It was breathtaking, inspiring, motivating and peaceful all in the same package. I could feel life surrounding me, the birds, the trees and the plants, alive and growing and I was just a spectator. When I first began people would tell me “it’s all very well working outside in the summer with the nice weather but you wait until the winter, then it gets tough”. I don’t know if they were trying to scare me or just forewarn me but I adore being outside all year round, which can only mean it was meant to be. I have embraced all the seasons and found beauty in each and every one of them and the cold winter weather is nothing that a few extra layers can’t fix.
I mention being a ‘spectator’ and even though I feel engaged with nature whenever I’m out walking or gardening, I know that I’m just that. Nature would survive without my input but I ask myself, would I survive without nature? The answer is no. Putting aside the fact that nature itself provides everything we need to survive, the air we breath, the protection we need, the food we eat. Our bond with nature goes beyond the physical requirements to survive. We have an instinct or intuition to connect with nature and scientists are still researching that feeling and what it means. We as human beings have a biological need to connect with nature, it’s called biophilia. It comes from the Greek meaning ‘love of life and the living world’. Because we evolved in nature we are genetically determined to love the natural world, it’s in our DNA.
Being outside and connecting with nature can, and indeed has been proven to, restore our mood, replenish our energy levels and fresh our minds. How many of us stare at screen and mobile devices for long periods of time but ask yourself when was the last time you looked at the bark of a tree or the intricacies of a leaf. The connection to nature is simply to notice, notice the weather, notice the sounds, smells...how the light dances and did you know that you can actually taste the fresh air! So if you are searching for a sense of comfort or calm or maybe you need to feel more alive, I know exactly where you can find it. Nature.