For some, gardening seems like a chore. Similar to loading the dishwasher or cleaning the toilet, gardening is often seen as being all about upkeep and maintenance, and there’s plenty of that to do already indoors.
Young people in particular are viewed as being disinterested in gardening; flats and houses are advertised as having ‘low-maintenance’ gardens on estate agents’ websites, and landlords rarely keep outdoor spaces in a decent or accessible condition, meaning renters will often struggle to find any sort of patch to call their own.
However, gardening is so much more than just maintenance and upkeep. Gardening is good for the soul. Here’s why:
1. It’s therapeutic
These days, there are a number of ways in which people seek to eradicate the stress that permeates their lives – yoga, ‘mindfulness’ apps, gym workouts, massages, online shopping, and catching Pokémon, to name but a few.
However, I would argue that gardening certainly deserves a place on this list as there is nothing more relaxing than pottering around outdoors on a sunday afternoon and tending to the fruits of your labour. This is partly because owning and caring for something that you have cultivated feels very satisfying. But there are other factors at work here too.
Firstly, gardening gets you outside and gives you the opportunity the breathe in the fresh air and listen to the birds singing (as well as planes, sirens, and beeping car horns). But jokes aside, even in the city getting out of doors feels good.
Secondly, gardening is something that takes time. Coax, feed, or serenade as much as you like, but plants will take their own sweet time when it comes to actually growing. This forces the gardener to slow down also, something that can be beneficial for those of us leading fast-paced lives where we have become accustomed to instantaneous gratification.
And of course, gardening generally results in less screen time, which can only be a good thing.
2. The environment
Creating as much green space as possible in urban areas is a big win when it comes to the environment. It is perhaps a rather obvious fact, but the more concrete-based development that takes place, the more likely areas are to flood. Water is absorbed by the soil under trees 67 times faster than under grass and, of course, concrete absorbs very little at all. If all of us made an effort to introduce some element of greenery into our immediate surroundings (a collection of herb pots, a beautiful window ledge display, a mossy shed roof, or even a rock garden) run off would be reduced in urban areas. Everything would look a lot prettier too.
To add to this, growing produce locally, rather than shipping it in from miles away, is one small step towards reducing carbon emissions. This is even more prominent in urban areas, where growing some of your own food can feel like a difficult task. However, steps are being taken to find ways in which to carve out small but suitable areas for growing produce in some major cities.
The decline of bees is, largely thanks to good media coverage, a well-known and lamented fact. But other wildlife such as butterflies and birds have also been negatively affected by the reduction of green spaces over recent decades. Heathland areas, which are uniquely diverse in their range of flora and fauna, have declined considerably in the UK since 1800 – around 80% of these spaces are no longer in existence, according to the RSPB.
This is where the gardener can easily step in to help. Growing bee and butterfly-friendly plants is easy to do and garden centres often use their labels to indicate which flowers are best for which types of wildlife.
In fact, growing anything at all (provided it’s not Japanese Knotweed) benefits wildlife. I was amazed at how, just after a few weeks, my newly created flower bed had become home to all kinds of wildlife – worms, woodlice, spiders, bees and those pesky slugs and snails.
However, living in an urban area, I still rarely see butterflies – this is an upsetting fact, but something that will hopefully be improved upon with increased conservation efforts over coming years.
4. It requires creativity and discipline
There is certainly an element of creativity involved in gardening, particularly when working within a small, urban space. Deciding on what to put where, how to display things in the best way, and which colours and textures to incorporate takes time, patience, and lots of homework.
It is easy to dig things up that look like they aren’t working, or to buy fully grown plants that make the job easier and quicker (and more expensive). But with discipline and a bit of research about how to care for different types of plants, give it a year or two, and your garden will be something to be proud of.
5. Feed yourself and educate your kids
There are loads of edible items that are easy to grow with minimal equipment or specialist knowledge. Potatoes, strawberries and herbs being some of the easiest.
There is nothing quite like eating a potato that is fresh from the ground, or picking basil leaves from the plant on your kitchen windowsill, rather than continuously buying packaged supermarket leaves or always using the dried option.
Many herbs, such as mint, rosemary, chives, and thyme can easily be grown outside in pots, making them perfect for balconies or small patios. Strawberries are great in containers too – just make sure you get to them before the birds do.