Gardening Helped My Family Flourish
Former stressed-out city dweller and Guardian writer, Kim Stoddart, explains how gardening has helped her family to flourish…
When I lived in Brighton and worked long office hours, often the only nature I’d see all week would be a scrappy grass verge on my walk into work. After meetings that seemed to waffle on forever about targets and oodles of red tape, the sheer joy and relaxation I felt at the meaningful simplicity of gardening in my spare time grounded me. The pleasure I got from learning to grow herbs and produce from seed in my tiny back yard was immense and provided real satisfaction in a way that my work at the time could never have done. I longed for more of the same and gradually changed my life in pursuit of just that.
The healing power of nature
Of course, anyone who gardens or works with animals knows how good it can make you feel. Whether you're a bit tired, have had a stressful day at work, an argument, or are dealing with serious depression or heartbreaking loss, I've heard time and time again from people I’ve interviewed how powerfully healing it can be. It enables us to take time out from the constant busyness, noise and over-stimulation of the 24/7 modern world and just be. Especially at this time of year when the sun is shining and the veg patch is packed full of exciting edibles.
Our garden has become an open sensory room
My youngest son, Arthur (7) has autism and we’ve found that like most (if not all) non neuro-typical children, he is happiest outside. Over time, our garden has become like an open sensory room, with crunchy gravel and slate pathways that make a delightful sound when you walk along them. There’s tons of wildlife and many sounds, smells and sensorial appealing details and areas to explore besides.
When we've had people over and Arthur's had a meltdown - the garden is where we've gone and he is almost instantly calmed. In the early days when getting him to eat healthily was often tricky, a little forage in the garden worked wonders. It made the process of eating more interesting to him and means that now (thankfully) he continues to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
Fully embraced all things autism
As my son learns bit by bit to cope with the world and all that is expected of him, to find his voice and make himself heard, the garden remains a haven. Having a non neuro typical child has taught us so many things. Entering his world to bring him more into ours has been challenging but ultimately it has enriched our lives immensely. I've fully embraced all things autism - so much so that I'm in the process of setting up a social enterprise that will offer therapeutic (and empowering) gardening experiences to a range of people, including autistic young people and adults.
There is nothing like popping to the polytunnel or back garden to pick produce for your lunch or dinner, or in the case of fresh peas, munching them like sweets straight from the pod. It’s satisfying and the freshness and quality of produce which can be taken from ground to plate in a matter of minutes means that it is also extremely good for you.
Don’t just take my word for it; in 2014 a team at Newcastle University found that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants. While in a separate study organic meat and milk was shown to contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than otherwise. There is simply nothing to compare with home grown fruit and veg and the experience of producing it.