Prior to taking on my first allotment plot, I was what most would agree to be ‘black fingered’. Whilst not strictly true as I did spend my younger years helping my grandfather in his amazing vegetable garden, most of that knowledge and love had long been lost.
When we renovated our house back in 2008, the greenery in our back garden was removed and replaced with gravel – and whilst attractive (in a modernist kind of way – we added water features, hot tub etc too), it’s a far cry from what I would dream of today. Anyone that knew me then would marvel at my differing views today – I’m probably the very last person they’d expect to see covered in mud.
I’ve blogged this before, but I took on my first allotment plot in 2015 on a whim. I was starting to feel mentally exhausted after years of sitting behind a computer at all hours, barely seeing the light of day, and running a stressful business. The advertisement for allotment plots caught my eye and I was instantly transported back to my childhood and the time spent in my grandfathers garden – this, I thought, could be the answer.
As it turned out, it was – and more. The first season was one of ups-and-downs – and an awful lot of learning. But all the tribulations mattered little because I could instantly see how much better I was mentally. I really wish I could pinpoint ‘why’ it makes me feel so much better – perhaps it’s just the fresh air, perhaps it’s just our human instinct – after all, we’re not meant to spend our lives sat behind a desk, or perhaps it’s the positivity that comes with gardening. To plant a seed today is believing tomorrow will come.
I don’t recall there being so much focus on mental health and gardening back then, though I’m sure it was promoted – but certainly in the last year or two it has become much more actively promoted, and with good reason. The NHS recognise the health benefits – not just mentally, but also physically and as a means to healthier eating, and some GPs will advise patients to explore the idea before prescribing pills. Media coverage surrounding mental health has also increased recently, with allotment gardeners in particular coming to the fore to reinforce allotment gardening as a way of coping with mental health issues – both Kirstie and Annabelle have featured a great deal in the press lately.
A study released at the end of 2015 claimed that just 30 minutes of gardening can be enough to improve self esteem, mood and general health. The study concluded that allotment gardeners had “significantly better self-esteem, total mood disturbance and general health, experiencing less depression and fatigue and more vigour”.
Since I took on the first plot back in 2015, personal challenges have continued to come my way, both in terms of health and family life. I have little doubt that these additional challenges would have ‘tipped me over the edge’ if it wasn’t for my plot. As it happens, these challenges simply gave me more reason to follow my allotment journey with more vigour and passion than I ever anticipated.
My mental health is the first reason I garden, but not the only reason.
Founder and Editor, ForkMojo. Organic Allotmenteer, Husband, Father & Programmer.