As a young child I remember hearing my mother say that she was off to have ‘garden therapy’. I had no idea what this meant at the time. My mother’s home as a young girl was at Mount Irvine, part of the beautiful Blue Mountains outside Sydney. She was surrounded by botanical beauty in her home garden and as she rode her pony to the one teacher school. The lush rainforest harboured countless varieties of birds and wildlife who revelled in the security of the overhead canopy. In the open gardens there are enormous rhododendrons, azaleas, wisteria and flowering bulbs in Spring. The Autumn colours are breathtaking. It is garden therapy to spend time in this stunning precinct.
I can only imagine how much my mother missed the soft beauty of her childhood home, to venture to the dry and flat region of Deniliquin in the southern Riverina when she married my father. Despite pre-irrigation times, she managed to create a flourishing oasis at her new home, despite the climatic challenges she faced. As a young girl, I was lucky to be surrounded by a beautiful garden.
My love of plants originated at an early age. My family were holidaying by the beach at St Kilda in Melbourne. The grand old hotel where we stayed, boasted a central atrium filled with ferns, succulents and all manner of plants. The gardener in charge noticed my interest and encouraged my participation in the care of his precious foliage. As a result, I became an obsessive succulent collector on my return home, filling tins, pots and old boots with my treasures.
Many years later when the time came for my departure to my marital home on an undeveloped property in far north Queensland where I would need to create my own oasis, my mother’s words rang true;
‘If you feel sad, angry or frustrated, go dig in your garden. Garden therapy helps.’
This excellent advice I have adhered to for fifty-three years. It has served me well, especially whilst home schooling two boys! The garden played an important role for them during school hours as well. When things became tense in the schoolroom, I would send them outside, to vent their anger on the ‘Anger Tree.’ That stalwart raintree withstood the punches and kicking and abuse it was subjected to, helping to release the mental pressure for teacher (mum) and student.
Being in a gardening environment releases endorphins and a feeling of peace. It is difficult to feel negative thoughts when surrounded by living plants, with the associated life that flourishes within. The sound of birds singing, seeing a butterfly drift by, a tiny ladybug sitting on a leaf, the hum of the bees and the rustle of the wind in the leaves is good for the soul. I love to dig in the moist soil or smell the delicious aroma of the first drops of rain on scorched earth. One of my favourites sensory sights and smells is new mown grass with ‘poof poof’ sprinklers circulating their precious water to maintain the lush, green lawn.
The best garden therapy for me is preparing the beds for new life, whether it be vegetables of flowers. There is something about creating, planting, nurturing and watching the plants grow and respond to care. There is nothing like picking fresh produce that you have grown, or having a bunch of flowers for the dining table. How rewarding is that?
Garden therapy helps many disadvantaged people, young and old. There are successful programmes being introduced to indigenous communities using hydroponics to produce fresh produce in tropical areas. This is an educational initiative and is achieving amazing results with supporting mental health, physical health with an improved diet. This is only one of many successful programmes being introduced to schools and communities.
I have found that gardening offers therapeutic benefits which extend beyond good health, nutrition and physical exercise. Relaxation, stress relief and pleasure and rewarding. Each day is different and there are challenges from all angles, drought, fire, bugs, disease, but there is always an answer and learning along the way keeps the mind and body on its toes! I have since read that garden therapy helps with memory and cognitive abilities. I’m going to keep going! The advice my mother offered to me many years ago has helped me to use ‘Garden Therapy’ and benefit from the results. Thank you Mum!
I hope you may be able to plant a plant, nurture it and enjoy every minute in your garden.
Until next time
Jenny Old AUTHOR
‘Innocent Nurses Abroad’
‘Back of Beyond’ Facebook