July 18, 2008

Let yourself GROW

irdre O'Flynn

There can be nowhere greener than your garden, and mowing and sowing will not only benefit the environment, but it's also good for your mental health. In fact, researchers at the University of Florida have found that just walking through a botanical garden lowers some people s stress levels, in much the same way that looking at a beautiful sunset improves the mood of the viewer.

Recent Irish research by Pfizer revealed that 93% of people surveyed agree that gardening is good for your health. Gardening also provides an outlet for your creative instincts, ever so important in an increasingly fast paced culture that promotes electronic hand-held devices mobile phones, console games over a rake and a hoe. A recent report in England into the work-life balance, Whose Life is it Anyway? from the British Mental Health Foundation, revealed that 41% of respondents were sacrificing their hobbies and pastimes by working too long, Planning, planting and watching your own garden grow offers gardeners a sense of control, often the very thing people feel slipping away from them, whether you're a dad of two stroppy teenagers or a retired executive.

Try giving even more back to nature by using compost comprised of your house's leftovers and grass cuttings and avoiding overuse of pesticides and sprays. Gardening is also an invaluable way of teaching the cycle of life to your children. Getting your hands dirty with the kids can be great, because gardening appeals to all their senses. They can watch plants or vegetables grow from tiny seedling to first buds to full colour. They can touch and feel the soil, tune in to the calls of birds, animals and insects; and smell the scent of flowers. And then they get to eat the veg they've laboured over, proving to them that not all good things come from fast food restaurants.

Encourage your child to keep a garden journal. Clip seed packets to a notebook page that shows the date the seeds were planted. Your child can then enter information about the plants' progress, weather, days to harvest and whatever else strikes their fancy. Over the coming weeks, they'll be able to chart how plants grow, the effect of sun and shade on plants, the effect of water and a lack of water on plants, plant varieties, soil types and the diversity of nature. Your investment in them will benefit you and them and the future of the planet.

HEALTHY OPTION: Working in the garden not only helps your plants to grow, it also nurtures your own mental health, away from the office or our increasingly electronic-run world.