Here is my story of how having an allotment garden has enlightened valuable lessons to change my perspective on everyday life and overall has improved my mental and physical health. As a forest school leader, I feel that every child should have the opportunity to discover nature but having dedicated the time to enjoy it myself has also shown me that as adults, we can often lose sight of living within the present.
Teaching children about growing fruit and vegetables have a beneficial end product that brings great delight but most importantly, the process embeds empathy, physical and mental enjoyment, resilience and patience. These are all important characteristics for children to learn but also ones that can be sometimes lost as an adult too.
Understandably it is easily done as responsibilities rise and life becomes very busy. I am sure you have tried to arrange to see a friend and before you know it, it’s been months because your diaries have clashed. Guilty! However, choosing to dedicate time for your mental well-being is so important and using that time to look after something else can be an option to still feel productive.
Growing anything can be achieved with whatever space you have: a garden, balcony or fill your home with a variety of houseplants. It’s all about the process!
Patience and resilience are key to getting a small seed to germinate. Let me tell you that sometimes it doesn’t always work and it can be challenging as you wonder what went wrong. But as you shrug it off and try again, then see that tiny green seedling appear you will feel a great sense of achievement! While your plant grows bigger, you may even find yourself researching how to look after it in the best way possible. It is amazing to have time just to focus on a small living thing and encourage it to thrive to its full potential. As flowers form and pollinate into fruit or vegetables, you will be proud to reap the rewards.
Although successfully growing is very fulfilling, I have found that it has been just as important to create an environment in which I feel at peace. Traditionally, allotments are to be used in a way where every square metre produces a harvest. However, I knew from the start that I wanted to both enjoy the wildlife and have somewhere to just ‘be’ equally. You can do the same by inviting wildlife to you! Whether that is by using bird feeders, planting wildflowers or making a small pond with oxygenating plants. Make an area to sit and relax in the fresh air and use that time to observe how busy nature can be around you and find clarity in the knowledge that you’ve contributed to their being somehow.
As I sit on my allotment bench and reflect on why I find myself here. I think back to covid, I had a small vegetable area in my garden that gave me the focus I needed to structure my day. I was able to see the daily changes in the plants and found it fascinating! When the world began to open up again and I went back to work, I really missed the boost in my mental health whilst pottering around in the garden with no stress, no reason to be anywhere and no responsibility other than staying safe. From then, I made the decision that it is my choice whether I make the time for that feeling. I am the one who is in control of knowing what is best for me and although it is a process and sometimes really hard work (physically), the benefits have changed my life for the better and I have never been happier.
In essence, I wanted to inspire you to not feel guilty for doing something that brings you joy and that it is ok to schedule an intermission from our fast-paced society. Do not let anybody tell you it is selfish or that there are more important things to do. Your mental health should always come first.
We put all of our care and patience into a small seedling to grow it to its full potential, see that as a metaphor for yourself. If you give the same attention to your own needs, likes/dislikes and the ideal environment, you won’t ever stop thriving again!
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