I’ve been reading ‘The Secret Garden’ with my eight year old daughter of late. It’s one hundred years old this year and remains one of my favourite books. Amid the rambling roses and intoxicating lilies a troubled girl finds hope, her wheelchair-bound cousin learns to walk, and his father finds relief from the grief of widowhood. Above all it illustrates how working and playing outdoors can heal and restore. That bit is not so secret.
I’ve lost count of how many studies show that the outdoors remains the healthiest environment for children and adults. Gardening with children is one of the easiest ways to reap the benefits nature offers. Children with access to green outdoor spaces play more creatively and are better behaved. Gardening is a stress buster and children who garden eat more healthily, evidenced by the way the school strawberry patch and cut and come again salads are attacked by hungry little hands on a regular basis.
What is less documented is how caring for a garden can nourish the soul too. Gardening can be meditative and renewing for the spirit. For example, gardening with ex-servicemen has been a tremendous success as have projects like my own with sufferers of post-natal depression. And whilst much of my work with children in the garden is one of frantic activity and wild enthusiasm ,for children too, quiet time in the garden can be an antidote to all the noise and business of modern-day living.
The garden offers a way for children and adults to recreate a connection with nature, which is essential to health. That connection to nature seems to be the magic potion which gardening offers.