Gardening is like taking a mental break

In the month that hosts World Mental Health Day and Public Health England launched its ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign, we talk to Paul Ward, Chief Operating Officer of mental health charity Mind.

Quite by chance, Paul and his partner Martin (pictured above) have been opening their garden in South London for the National Garden Scheme since 2007. We wanted to find out how he felt about Mind being chosen as our guest beneficiary in 2019 and what he feels are the benefits of gardening to mental health and wellbeing.

“Mind was really pleased when the National Garden Scheme selected the charity to be a beneficiary,” says Paul. “With its established Gardens and Health campaign and my own connection to the Scheme it brings gardening and mental health together really well. It’s a synergy we’re keen to explore especially as many people who use Mind’s services already talk about the value that gardens bring them in terms of helping to maintain and improve their mental health. To see that recognised in a partnership is absolutely great.”

While many work colleagues support Paul when he opens his own garden as part of the Lyndhurst Square group, the partnership between Mind and the National Garden Scheme is working to broaden the appeal of garden visits and to further promote the positive benefits to health and wellbeing.

“On a personal level I’ve always been keen to engage our garden visitors and to talk about the links between gardening and mental health but it’s not always been easy,” admits Paul. “What I’ve really noticed over the last two to three years however, is how much more interest there is in mental health. People seem to have a better understanding of mental health issues and I think that’s really positive. The fact that the National Health Service is championing self-prescribing services geared at reducing isolation and improving mental health and that Public Health England is highlighting mental health issues with a campaign aimed at supporting everyone to feel more confident in taking action to look after their mental health and wellbeing by promoting a range of self-care actions is testament to the change in public perception and acceptance. Sadly, budget cuts mean that many services are coming under huge amounts of pressure, that’s why the National Garden Schemes’ support and funding for Mind couldn’t have come at a better time.”

For Paul and Martin, gardening has always been therapeutic. “It’s a good mental break. There’s nothing better than being able to come home in the evening and spend half an hour in the garden. It just clears the mind and can be really relaxing. And, at the weekends, gardening is pretty much part of our regime, it gives us a complete break from the working week.

“There are so many benefits to gardening; it can keep you physically fit and active all year round and, it gets you outdoors, away from the telly!”

While Paul’s and Martin’s garden may only open for one or two days a year, the work is pretty constant and begins in November for a June opening. “We cut everything back in November which provides us with a clean canvas for the winter. With beehives at the bottom of the garden we only have a few cold weeks in January (when the bees are dormant) when we can actually garden around the hives and then we usually start planting the main garden from late February onwards. In March we plant and plant (we find it impossible to resist garden centres and plant sales) and then the weeds come and the work becomes a more traditional garden maintenance regime.”

With so much to do we wondered whether Paul and his partner really do derive positive benefits from opening their garden. “We do! We love it! Getting outside, planning, planting, watching the seasons ebb and flow and then the opening itself – it’s such a pleasure. Opening as part of a group of gardens in our Square is also a great way to bring the community together and everyone shares in the pleasure of what we’ve all achieved and how much we’ve raised for charity. But perhaps the best part is the interest and enthusiasm shared by our visitors, particularly in specific plants. It’s nice to talk to people who have a genuine interest in the garden and to see people inspired by it and who, in turn, take the ideas away with them and replicate them in their own gardens.”

The satisfaction of creating a beautiful space and sharing that with others who appreciate it and derive pleasure and inspiration from it, is shared by many National Garden Scheme garden owners. That their gardens also keep them fit and healthy, help banish the winter blues or take their minds off a stressful working week are the icing on the cake.

As Paul says, “gardening is like taking a mental break.” And, at a time when society seems to be bombarding many of us with uncertainty and self-doubt, taking a mental break is just what we need.


Paul and Martin’s garden opens as part of the Lyndhurst Square Group – you can find out more about the gardens and when they open here: https://ngs-wp.tclhosting.co.uk/view-garden/19213/ (2020 dates will be available mid-December)

Summer in Lyndhurst gardens

Summer in Paul’s garden

For more on Mind and the services they offer see: www.mind.org.uk

For more on our partnership with Mind click here


You may also like these stories from National Garden Scheme garden owners:

More than a hobby: gardening is good for the mind and body too

A flower to soothe the mind and soul

Surviving Cancer; the therapeutic power of gardens

Sharing her sanctuary. For Christine Lane, who lives with Parkinson’s, opening her garden for the National Garden Scheme is helping her focus on what she can do, rather than the things she can’t.

A garden for Harriet. How her garden helped Amanda find respite after losing her daughter and granddaughter.





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