Much research has been done into the health benefits (for both physical and mental health) of spending time in gardens and with plants and trees in nature. Contact with our natural world has benefits for all ages and is too easily forgotten in the daily routine or at times of stress.
A major negative influence on our health is the effect of stress in lowering our immune system and the ability to fight off germs. Taking the time to enjoy our gardens is an essential part of daily life. One of the best ways to see what is going on is to take the time to observe and look closely at how things are developing. A sure way to leave stress behind and tune into the seasons.
A recent study says there is firm evidence that gardeners live longer and are less stressed than the population in general. Some of this is put down to physical contact with soil and the plants. All this is perfectly aligned with a more sustainable approach to gardening and plant choices. An ecological approach to managing our land and gardens will automatically give close contact with nature.
Just some of the benefits of this are increased levels of calcium caused by exposure to sunlight which boosts vitamin D levels – but don’t forget the sun cream ! A study in 2006 revealed a 36% reduced incidence of dementia in active gardeners. The regular physical activity involved in gardening brings other benefits, especially if it involves growing your own fruit and vegetables.
After retirement, many people struggle with loneliness and a shared interest in plants and gardens can be a good way to engage with others while providing benefits to all. At the moment, we have to find other ways to connect with our friends and family and this is where the internet comes into its own. Use skype or video messaging to keep in touch and to share a joke or your latest success in the garden. Send me your garden photos and we will share them on our Facebook page.
There are specific organisations helping those with mental health issues which provide structured routines in fractured lives by growing and caring for plants and gardens. Horticultural therapy is a time-proven practice in improving self-confidence.
Forest bathing is now proving popular in the Algarve, but you can do this in your own garden. The therapeutic benefits of gardens and natural environments have been documented since ancient times and have proved particularly effective for those coping with trauma since the 1940s. Just setting aside 30 minutes a day to be outside can make a big difference and can be a form of meditation.
Spring Garden Fair cancelled
Unfortunately, we have had to cancel our popular Spring Garden Fair, but we are taking the opportunity to offer a very special event later in the year by making early plans for our Autumn Garden Fair on October 24 and 25 in Silves. Maybe you can do something similar and use extended time at home by making plans for the new gardening year. Here are some ideas for you:
▪ For some inspiration, check out the online talks available from knowledgeable speakers on Mediterranean gardening, now including the key talks from the Évora 2019 Conference.
▪ Look at the info leaflet prepared for the Spring Fair which gives details of all the plant nurseries and other exhibitors who were looking forward to sharing their work with you. Most will accept private visits but do contact them before you go.
▪ Look up native seed and plant providers, and their online lists, to plan any changes to your garden to make it more sustainable. www.sementesdeportugal.pt
▪ Bulbs are a classic addition to mediterranean gardens. MGAP will be accepting your bulb orders for delivery at the Autumn Fair. You can get some ideas of the range suitable for Algarve gardens here www.mgaportugal.org/JF_video.html
▪ If you are a keen propagator of plants from seeds and cuttings, now is the time to get growing – bring your spare plants to the MGAP Plant Sales stand at the Autumn Garden Fair to share with others.
▪ Any special hobbies such as birdwatching, country walks, painting and photography can be continued and developed. Take a picnic and avoid urban areas.
▪ Try not to watch too much news, keep busy, keep in touch with family and friends via the internet or phone each other. Technology can come in useful sometimes!
There are other concerns which also demand our attention. The current severe drought conditions show no sign of going away and we will enter the coming summer season with very low water reserves. Most gardeners are unaware that the natural flora of mediterranean-climate regions is a lot richer than that of temperate regions. Drought is an opportunity to grow a wide range of beautiful and climate-adapted plants in our gardens.
Plants are the basis of all life and are a proven way of connecting with nature and the seasons, a way of acquiring a more balanced rhythm. If you feel your normal life is on hold, take the opportunity to spend time with the green cover of our planet and what better place to start than with our own plants and gardens.