14 HOW TO HAR­VEST HAP­PI­NESS

An in­creas­ing num­ber of hos­pi­tals and hos­pices are in­vest­ing in the restora­tive power of gar­dens. Colum­nist and hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist Clare Coul­son digs deeper into the trend and re­veals how gardening can boost your well­be­ing at home

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Any­one who has walked in an in­tox­i­cat­ing English gar­den knows that greenery – whether it’s in the form of a ver­dant city bal­cony or a boun­teous herba­ceous border – is both life-af­firm­ing and up­lift­ing. We’ve al­ways known it, but har­vest­ing hap­pi­ness from green spaces is now a hot topic.

When the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety com­mis­sioned a sur­vey on the sub­ject, it found that for 95 per cent of adults, ac­cess to a gar­den lifted their mood. In 2012, the Na­tional Trust’s Nat­u­ral Child­hood re­port found that ex­po­sure to na­ture can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on a range of con­di­tions, in­clud­ing ADHD. And last year, the King’s Fund’s re­port, Gar­dens and Health, made the sug­ges­tion that hor­ti­cul­tural ther­apy be pre­scribed in the treat­ment of men­tal health con­di­tions, obe­sity and iso­la­tion.

Gardening en­ables us to en­ter the ‘zone’ – sim­i­lar to the state of con­scious­ness ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing run­ning or med­i­ta­tion – but it’s phys­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial too, burn­ing up to 400 calo­ries per hour. ‘It can pro­vide all- over body fit­ness. Rak­ing, weed­ing, dig­ging and other gardening tasks all use dif­fer­ent sets of mus­cles and test your body in dif­fer­ent ways,’ says Bunny Guin­ness, land­scape ar­chi­tect and au­thor of the book Gar­den Your Way to Health and Fit­ness. Spe­cial­ists in biome­chan­ics at Coven­try Univer­sity are tak­ing this idea one step fur­ther, us­ing their soft­ware to re­search ways to avoid gardening in­juries or help de­sign more ef­fec­tive tools. Grow­ing our own (usu­ally or­ganic) fruit and veg­eta­bles means that we will tend to eat more healthy home-grown pro­duce, too.

Gardening can also im­prove men­tal well­be­ing, a fact that is neatly il­lus­trated by char­i­ties, hos­pi­tals and hos­pices that cel­e­brate up­lift­ing gar­dens. At the RHS’S vast Hamp­ton Court Flower Show (open from 4–9 July), de­signer Tom Massey is back for the se­cond year with the ‘Peren­nial Sanc­tu­ary Gar­den’, a colour­ful spi­ral of plants that highlights the heal­ing power of 2,500 mood-en­hanc­ing species. Suf­folk-based gar­den de­signer Fred­eric Whyte, whose sea­sonal schemes al­ways fea­ture ex­quis­ite colour pal­ettes, has cre­ated ‘On The Edge’, an un­du­lat­ing land­scape dot­ted with sil­ver birch that aims to prompt more re­search into the ben­e­fits of green spaces on our men­tal well­be­ing.

At the Chelsea Flower Show last year, there was a sim­i­lar story – and this sum­mer, some of those ther­a­peu­tic gar­dens are be­ing planted up. On the roof of Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal, there’s a space rich with all shades of greenery from hostas to ferns, var­ie­gated grasses to yew balls. It’s all cour­tesy of Chris Beard­shaw – hor­ti­cul­ture’s equiv­a­lent to an Olympian, with 11 gold medal-win­ning Chelsea gar­dens un­der his belt. Then there’s the beau­ti­ful wood­land by Cather­ine Macdonald, an­other mul­ti­medal-win­ning Chelsea Flower Show reg­u­lar, that has been in­stalled in Ho­ra­tio’s Gar­den at the Scot­tish Na­tional Spinal In­juries Unit.

An­other high­light from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was ‘A Mod­ern Apothe­cary Gar­den’, which was de­signed by herb ➤

‘In Ayurvedic medicine, when a pa­tient is poorly, doc­tors of­ten ask them to sit in the herb gar­den’

grower, gardening ex­pert, sea­soned Chelsea con­trib­u­tor and RHS Health Am­bas­sador Jekka Mcvicar. The gar­den, which fea­tured peb­ble paths curved around fra­grant beds of musk roses and medic­i­nal plants, has now been planted at St John’s Hospice in London. ‘In Ayurvedic medicine, when a pa­tient is poorly, doc­tors of­ten ask them to spend time sit­ting in the herb gar­den,’ Mcvicar ex­plains. ‘The sim­ple act of rest­ing within a gar­den, sur­rounded by plants, has a calm­ing ef­fect and can lift a per­son’s spir­its.’

Mag­gie’s is ar­guably the most pro­lific char­ity in har­ness­ing the power of plants. Its cen­tres, which are built along­side NHS hos­pi­tals, pro­vide restora­tive spaces for can­cer pa­tients and their vis­it­ing fam­i­lies to a for­mula laid out by the late Mag­gie Keswick, who wrote a vi­sion­ary blue­print for the cen­tres that would be built af­ter her death in 1995. For this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, Corn­wall-based land­scaper Dar­ren Hawkes cre­ated a gar­den that will be planted at the Mag­gie’s cen­tre at Barts, which will open late this year. En­closed by a three- me­tre horn­beam hedge, the gar­den is punc­tu­ated by two vast pol­ished basalt benches that are sur­rounded by pe­onies, roses and box.

‘The gar­den is a use­ful talk­ing point when you are feel­ing anx­ious or over­whelmed. But it can also be­come a con­duit to a more mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion,’ says Mag­gie’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Laura Lee, who works with some of the world’s most revered ar­chi­tects and plants­men to cre­ate each new cen­tre. ‘A gar­den lifts the heart, soul and spirit. Al­though those are all quite ephemeral words, we know that when you put peo­ple in a space with a view it does some­thing for their mood and anx­i­ety lev­els.’

This au­tumn, the char­ity be­gins a new project at the Royal Mars­den Hos­pi­tal, work­ing with the London stu­dio of Ab Rogers (who cre­ated bold and play­ful in­te­ri­ors in Tate Mod­ern and the De­sign Mu­seum) and Piet Ou­dolf, the Dutch land­scape de­signer famed for his swishy swathes of grasses. Lee vis­ited Ou­dolf’s gar­den in the Nether­lands, so that she could get a greater sense of his plant­ing and style. ‘The ex­pe­ri­ence stayed with us long af­ter we had left it,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘ There’s some­thing about gar­dens that can just do that.’

ED

‘The gar­den is a use­ful talk­ing point when you are feel­ing anx­ious or over­whelmed’

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