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Fun, Fresh Air, New Friends: How community gardening can grow your confidence

Have you ever thought about joining a community gardening group, but lacked the confidence to do so? If yes, you are like me a few years ago before I discovered my hidden garden guru. I wanted to find out more about gardening and wasn’t sure what to do next. So I signed up for an online gardening course and took on a community allotment. 

I wasn’t sure if I would be any good at it but for once, I jumped straight in. Feet first, with fingers and gardening gloves crossed. Over time, my friendships and confidence has grown, I have taken on chickens, ducks and bees. They are so cool. They propel me out of bed on the wettest days, when really I would rather stay under my duvet and hide away from it all. 

Once I’m inside the communal gate, I’m skipping along the pathway and can’t wait to get the hosepipe on. It is not always easy, and we have made a few mistakes along the way. But with a few well-meaning and good intentioned friends alongside us to share the journey, we have persevered. 

In August and September, I shall be working as an Interim Tutor, Assessor and Head Gardener at a wonderful new Well-Being garden, in the grounds of Stratford Upon Avon hospital in Warwickshire. I am trembling with excitement and I must admit a degree of anticipation

Last week, I met a group of founding volunteers who are lovely and together I am sure we will make a great vibrant, productive space, with edibles to distribute in the on-site hospital cafe bar.

One of our first tasks was to tidy up and risk assess the newly developing growing space. We did this as a group, each taking their own share of the responsibility to make their work area, clean, safe and spick and span. Ready for this week’s task of sowing seeds, and repotting plants.

My confident self, says I have done this numerous times before. The slightly ‘neurotic’ me is reading and re-reading my gardening books and checking through the process and method again and again in my head. By the time Friday comes, I will be prepared and ready. I will have rehearsed many conversations in my head, which inevitably will never come to pass. In exactly the same slightly over-energised way, I will have checked and rechecked the seed labels, counted and recounted the seed trays. 

Every possible accident and emergency will have been documented and planned for. I will have imagined every worst case scenario and worked backwards from there. At the end of the session, needless to say, no-one will have permanently damaged their back from inappropriate lifting or bending. The bamboo canes won’t have poked into anyone’s eye, causing long term blindness, and no-one will have fallen over the broom.

Instead, we will have survived. Indeed, we will have thrived. Importantly, we will have done this together. A friendly team of volunteers, all committed to producing a space, which will feed and nurture others. We will have laughed and joked. Shared tea and biscuits. Spilt a couple of things and swiftly and easily picked them back up. We will ask questions, and find the answers. 

We will have shared our stories and listened to each other. In doing all of this, we will have exposed a little of our daily lives to the scrutiny of others. We will not be found wanting, instead our weaknesses will be compensated by the strength of others. Shared worries and anxieties will have been lessened by the ‘fresh air’ and solidarity, giving them exposure to the light of the day. 

We will wander off home in our separate directions, taking with us our thoughts and reflections from the day. Next week, we will return. Ready to do it all again. Satisfied that each day brings a new adventure and a fresh challenge. Such is the way of things, it is the joy of community gardening, of volunteering, of giving oneself to a project and reaping subtle but lasting rewards. 

Researchers are increasingly interested in the therapeutic benefits of horticulture. For example, Holly Harris argues that,

‘Harnessing nature to promote mental health is increasingly seen as a sustainable solution to healthcare across the industrialised world. The benefits of these approaches to well‐being include reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and improved social functioning. Many studies assume that contact with nature is the main therapeutic component of these interventions yet ‘green care’ programmes typically include activities not based on ‘nature’ that may contribute to positive outcomes’.  

Harris found that,

  • Engagement in therapeutic horticulture is not dependent on personal interest in gardening or ‘nature’.
  • The social dimension of therapeutic horticulture is a primary engagement factor.
  • Projects open to wider community involvement offer opportunities for social integration beyond the programme.

Something worth trying perhaps, if you are looking for a new hobby or venture.

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