Green fingers: the benefits of gardening

Leukaemia Care trustee Kate Stallard is in remission from acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), and since her diagnosis she has found gardening to be a way to cope. Here, she talks about how gardening helped her, and how it might help you too.

I’ve been spending a lot more time in my garden of late – something I’m not complaining about! In fact, I am writing this whilst sat in my garden. Yes, I may have a hot water bottle on my lap; yes, I may have a glass of wine by my side, and yes, it is definitely too cold to be sat outside. But I thought – what better place to write about gardening than in my garden? Plus, I am getting rather sick of my house right about now!

Being able to spend time outdoors, whether that be in your garden, going for a walk or simply looking out of your window, is so important. Having that connection to the world outside of your four walls can lift spirits and make you feel less isolated.

I used to think how boring gardening was when I was growing up and my parents would drag me around garden centres. It was only when I was in my 20s that I started to experience the magic of growing my own vegetables. I was not very adventurous, and my knowledge was, shall we say, lacking. I was once so proud to have grown some herbs which I harvested and laid out nicely to dry in my airing cupboard. As I tipped the used compost from the herb pot into the garden bin, I noticed some very orange carrots. Yes, carrots. I was happily drying carrot leaves in my airing cupboard. Oh dear.

Now I am in my 30s and I have my own garden – and thankfully my gardening prowess has improved slightly! Although most of my gardening involves trial and error, I still take a lot of pleasure from it. It has been a kind of therapy when things in life have become overwhelming. Plants symbolise hope and promise to me.

I remember staring out of my hospital isolation room at the trees and shrubs below, watching as they changed with the seasons. There was still a world out there. It made me feel connected to it, a part of it.

Now I find myself isolated in my home and garden. I am in remission from blood cancer; however, the mental and physical scars are still raw. Gardening for me became a kind of therapy, a release, a comfort. I feel that now more than ever. These are unsettling, anxious and scary times for us all.

Heading into the garden calms me down when I feel wobbly and when I feel that it is all getting too much. Human contact is limited now, prohibited even. It brings back all the worries of when I had leukaemia. Let’s face it, we blood cancer patients know quite a lot about self-isolating. I find myself gravitating to the garden – to me, nurturing a plant, pruning to encourage new growth, feeding with fertiliser or simply watching it grow and bloom is a stress relieving process. Springtime especially is such a lovely time of year. Hope comes in the shoots of bulbs, colourful displays of yellow, pink, orange. If nature can carry on, then so can I.

So, I take comfort in the growth I see in the garden. I take pleasure in sowing seeds and placing pots and trays on my windowsills; I look forward to the warm summer evenings sat in the garden, picking a few raspberries to pop in my Pimms.

Perhaps you find solace in your garden too? My mind feels focused, I feel lighter for a few moments and I am able to support my plants in thriving as they support me in finding a sense of calm.

April is the perfect month to sow vegetable seeds such as beetroots, radishes, carrots and peas, for example. If you can’t access seeds right now, then there is always weeding to do! I know, I know, I’m sorry, but it’s a fact of life, weeding will always be on the to-do list! But if you aren’t able to garden then sit and admire the outside world – the blossoms, the flowers, the growth – and be present in that moment, taking in a long slow breath of fresh air.

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