At a time when we connect with other people more and more through screens and our lives have become more and more virtual, nature can become a counterbalance. Connecting with the natural world actively by planting, growing or clearing makes us almost literally rooted and grounded, with more of a feeling of place.
Planting bulbs expresses hope, investing in the future. Growing a few vegetables expresses independence, in an age when so many of us have become separated from how our food is produced. Even simple conservation tasks express commitment, making a landscape or a patch of ground more of a habitat for wildlife maybe.
Independence can boost confidence, hope can improve mood, contributing to biodiversity can create different perspectives. There are so many diverse ways that connecting with nature can help us all.
The gardening therapy charity Thrive runs a range of projects creating opportunities for people to engage with planting and growing in different circumstances. One is their stroke programme in Battersea Park, which people attend to support their rehabilitation following a stroke. Time spent working in the Thrive therapy garden there has helped many stroke survivors to improve their physical and mental recovery – from motor skills and limb strength to confidence and communication. The garden has become a community of its own, drawing together people who share similar experiences and can support one another.
Stroke rehabilitation is one area where nature can have a strong impact, specifically because it contributes to mental as well as physical recovery.
This year the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine published the Nature Stroke Study, the first trial of its kind with stroke survivors who have post-stroke fatigue. Gardening therapy over 8 weeks, alongside walking and simply time spent in nature, proved to have a postive impact, and hopefully larger-scale trials or initiatives will follow.
Like many art and music for wellbeing groups, there’s a strong community element to many nature initiatives as well, like the Thrive garden. Simple everyday tasks like weeding or watering can seem more constructive and worthwhile in a group. Across different people’s experiences, it’s sometimes difficult to identify which element makes the greatest difference: is it the time spent outdoors in the fresh air? The connection with the natural world, with soil and trees and birdsong? Is it completing practical tasks like sowing seeds or growing tomatoes? Is it the opportunity to leave your stamp on a patch of earth? Or is it the sense of community spirit, the opportunity to be part of a team and to share? Maybe you could share your own thoughts and experiences in Medley’s new Facebook group, which has only just started, and help get the ball rolling. Thank you. https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002
For people with a disability or illness, or for older people, the loss of fitness or freedom to spend time outdoors can be painful, so that new ways of connecting with nature are all-important. People with limited mobility may sometimes take part indoors, maybe in a care home, where older people can help with container gardening. This enables connection with the cycle of planting and growing, but it may be very different from what the older people could once do. People of all ages may become frustrated or disheartened if they are unable to do what others can do, or what they themselves could do before they became ill or disabled. One way to create a fresh perspective for people might be to try experimenting with a wide range of tasks or activities, maybe growing types of plants new to the participants, so there’s less occasion to compare with what once was. Or where gardening is not possible, using art, craft or music to engage people with nature could become an alternative (as in Medley’s Creative Ideas – https://medley.live/creative-ideas )