I’m a big believer in plant symbiosis. I did a social media campaign recently just highlighting some of the benefits that growing our own herbs can give us. And whilst I’ve always loved growing my own produce I’m only now starting to appreciate not only the joy and physical benefits it gives me but the health benefits too. It all just fascinates me, that a tiny herb or a bunch of spinach leaves can have such an impact on the metabolic structure of my body. Growing your own produce is satisfying on all levels, health, mentally and physically. But I realise that not all of us are fortunate to have the space to grow our own veg but we shouldn’t let that stop us, most people have a window and if you have natural light, you can grow something. Whether it’s herbs or chillies or a window box of cut and come again lettuce, you can grow. And of course there are house plants. Research has shown that there are tangible psychological benefits to keeping house plants such as;
Improves mood levels
Lower stress levels
Improved attention span
In addition to this house plants are fantastic filters of harmful pollutants that are commonly found in household cleaning products, textiles and cosmetics. So you can create your own indoor air-purifying oasis, with house plants. You look after them and they will look after you...a perfect symbiotic relationship.
I have mentioned that I love being surrounded by nature and in fact, I adore trees. I’m very fortunate to be able to volunteer at a glorious 5 acre arboretum on the edge of Dartmoor National Park called Stone Lane Gardens. Here I found another sanctuary, an enchanting environment that has never failed to lift my spirits and a place where I can indulge in the practise of Shinrin-Yoku, the art and science of forest bathing. It teaches you how to use trees and their environment to help you find health and happiness. The practise began in the 1980’s and it quickly became part of a campaign to protect forests. It was thought that if people were encouraged to visit forests for health reasons, that they would be likely to then help protect and look after these spaces. In the 1990’s preliminary research began looking into the health benefits but it wasn’t until 2004 that a scientific investigation took place which proved that the practise could;
Reduce blood pressure
Lower stress levels
Improve cardiovascular & metabolic health
Lower blood sugar levels
Improve concentration & memory
Lower feeling of depression, anxiety & anger
Improve pain thresholds
Boost the immune system
Increase anti-cancer protein production
Shinrin-Yoku teaches you exercises that help you to engage the five senses and the reasons why forests are the best places for these exercises is due to the high concentration of oxygen found in them along with the microbes and plant chemicals called phytoncides. But if you don’t have a forest near you too practise in, these exercises can be done in your local park or any available green space. It teaches you about grounding yourself in nature, to connect with the earth and you know the very best way to do this...take your shoes off! The very best way to feel connected and grounded is to remove your shoes and socks and walk on the earth, a patch of grass or dirt, just do it, stand there bare foot and feel the energy and connection.
Volunteering at Stone Lane Gardens has given me a great opportunity to spend time in this glorious space and to meet fantastic likeminded people, learn about conservation, arboriculture and plant heritage. I highly recommend volunteering or joining a community garden or even putting your name down for an allotment. Research has shown that people who belong to a gardening group or an allotment group tend to feel less isolated and enjoy better physical and mental wellbeing. Doctors have now started prescribing gardening as a way to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. Horticultural therapists help people to recover from, or cope with, a range of illnesses and disabilities through gardening programmes, using nature-based activities to increase feelings of wellbeing, and in some cases, aid rehabilitation and recovery.
As you’ve gathered I’m a huge advocate of green space but within most green spaces there is blue too and we mustn’t forget the benefits that the sky brings us. Not only is it intrinsically embedded in us to be attracted to the colour blue (due to the human body being 60% water) but we can gain so much from the presence of blue in our lives. Whether that be the ocean, rivers, ponds, water features in our gardens or the sky. And the sun is our best source of vitamin D, this vitamin is produced from cholesterol in the skin cells when exposed to the sun, which is essential for optimum health and improved immune system. It’s suggested that 40% of adults have a vitamin D deficiency but 10-30 minutes of midday sun several times a week is sufficient. Granted the sky isn’t always blue especially if you live in the UK but it is as much apart of any garden and outdoor space as the trees and the flowers and it gives so much back. It’s another dimension to get lost in and gives a sense of freedom.
And now that we face more uncertainty two things stand out to me during this time, the importance of Green and Blue. My advice...take a walk. Whatever you are feeling or going through just go outside, if this seems impossible right now or restrictions just don’t allow us, then just stick your head out the window and breath. Take in the air, the green, the blue.
My second piece of advice...grow something, anything, whether it’s in your garden or on the window ledge, anywhere, just grow something! You don’t need to buy fancy stuff, just sow the seeds from your store bought pepper, seriously you can grow anything and the feeling of pride and wonder that this tiny living entity brings you is incomparable.
BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF GREEN & BLUE.