Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the BBC show Gardener’s World – in fact, it’s the only reason we maintain a TV licence and every year when the licence renewal is up, I consider not renewing as Mrs Jez and I hardly watch any television, unless friends or colleagues are on. Every year I’m reminded of that Victoria Wood gag where she explains that the television license inspector came knocking on her door: “we’ve reason to believe you’re watching television without a licence and are fined £100”, to which Wood explains that she’s only watching Gardener’s World, to which the inspector replies: “oh, ok, call it fifty”.
Last year I remember watching our friend Adam Frost visit some community projects that were using gardening as a mechanism to bring communities together and to offer what was essentially distraction therapy for those who had suffered all sorts of different life traumas. Refugees who had been forced out of their country, witnessing (and in one case personally subjected to) rape, famine and destruction in the process. Children with learning difficulties and special educational needs who felt that they didn’t quite fit in; the recipients of bullying behaviour and feeling confused. Different nationalities; religions; social backgrounds and here they all were, together – gardening. Growing vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit – together. No prejudice and in some cases not even a common language among them, however, despite the social, economic, psychological and behavioural extremes, Frost began to unpick their stories, revealing to us, the emotionally overwhelmed viewers, that here was nature, healing.
Some of these individuals had been to the most darkest places in their minds and souls: they had witnessed and been subjected to some of the most horrific examples of behaviour our species can exhibit. But with their hands in soil; preparing and nurturing new life in the form of plants and in turn enjoying the culinary benefits of their labour, there was solace.
If nature can help to heal and provide efficacious restorative opportunities for human health, wellbeing and behaviour when we are at our lowest and despite the most extreme of circumstances – just imagine what contact with nature could do for those of us fortunate enough to not be in those positions?
Gardening activities are, for me, the most obvious and often rewarding examples of having contact with nature. Not everyone has a woodland walk, or even a nice walk, available to them. Nor do they have anywhere within easy access to watch birds or other wildlife. Gardening though can be done with absolutely no budget whatsoever, wherever and whenever – I challenge you! Some of my favourite ways for businesses to engage with nature are building, planting and tending to their own desktop herb garden for colleagues to engage with and share; growing interesting and useful plants from seed (cucumbers are great because sliced and added to water make for a really refreshing and thirst-quenching drink – visitors here at our farm often comment on how much they like the taste of the water, which is simply filtered from the tap and slices of cucumber added); strawberries are super easy to grow and make great window plants. What about scattering some cut flower seeds outside and using them to brighten up your office, picking a few on your way into the building each day?
Nature heals. It’s why we set up The Good Life Project because there’s been very little shared publicly over the past forty years about the remarkable benefits to culture, well-being, behaviour, health, focus, attention, creativity – the benefits are wide ranging but still remarkably under utilised in our personal lives and at work. If something is wrong, or not working, we’re still very quick to stay in, bemoan and possibly reach for a pill. We might have to have meetings, a structured program devised or “involve HR” – instead of embracing the obvious solution: nature. It’s right there, outside our windows! Always has been. Walking meetings, enforced time outside or at least engaging with nature (watering plants, planting seeds, tending to a herb garden or even keeping bees, for example) need not cost anything and are accessible.
Will we ever see the time when we self manage our health, behaviour and well-being by taking time out in the garden, or vegetable patch? Recognising the power of fresh air and natural life?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression, which has significant prevalence here in the United Kingdom largely between September and April when the long, dark nights and gloomier weather occupy. The NHS estimates it’s affecting about 1 in 15 people in the UK, which is a startling statistic. I suspect that might well be higher – if you find that your get up and go has got up and gone during the winter months, or that suddenly when April comes around you instantly feel in better spirits: cheerier and with more energy, then it’s likely you’re more affected by our famous British weather than you might realise. As someone who has lived with depression all of my adult life, I feel infinitely better: recharged, happier, energetic, healthier even, when I’ve been outside and specifically when I’ve been gardening. The activity provides focus on effort that will pay dividends in a very short time. There’s nothing quite like sitting and admiring vegetables or flowers, reflecting on your efforts to achieve something that is naturally beautiful.
Imagine the power that organisation’s could embrace to see less stress, more productivity and greater creativity; reduced sickness and more efficient and happier cultures… is it too obvious?
Jez Rose is a broadcaster, bee farmer and, inspired by his Grandma, an unconventional gardener. He launched The Good Life Project to help and encourage organisation’s and individuals to engage with nature for the benefits of human health, wellbeing and behaviour. www.JezRose.co.uk