Sunday, 23 October 2016

Gardening & Health, the pro's & con's

 It was world mental health day on the 10th October and its been at the forefront of my mind all week, partly because this week the #gdnbloggers will be talking about it on Twitter tonight, along with the other health benefits gardening brings. From personal experience it can be a physically demanding & sometimes mentally challenging line of work and thats what I chose to blog about this week as a slight departure from my usual ....
Ryton Organic Gardens
There a great movement at the moment championing Gardening as the career choice for improvement in your mental health and physical wellbeing and it is!

There's a great deal of evidence that a life lived more in tune with nature helps us balance the tough trials of modern life. More natural daylight can help bodyclocks knocked out of synch by our brightly lit environments. A day spent digging the earth allows our minds to wander freely and tires the body in a way that sitting behind a desk never will, thus giving the insomniac a greater chance of sleeping the night through.

Even just being in contact with the earth can apparently give us a feelgood factor as we absorb bacteria which not only aids our bodies immune system but also triggers a natural high, not even counting all those lovely endorphins we release when barrowing a ton of muck over the borders.

They said id go up in the world.... they didnt say how...
A lot of people now spend time volunteering in Gardens across the country (which is a two edged sword in its own right and not for this blog post... Maybe later!)  Giving up a few hours to a day of their time, spending it in a beautiful environment, working on the land. Allotmenteering is having its biggest rise in popularity since the second world wars "Dig for Victory" campaign. All in the name of healthy body, healthy mind. Teaching children in this increasingly technological world how nature works, where their food comes from etc. All of these things are amazing, great & wonderful and what I'm about to say should not detract from my thoughts and feeling on them whatsoever but...

If you're thinking of changing your career based just on this and think the world of Horticulture is full of fluffy bunny's and pink clouds of happiness, don't!
It, like any other job, is bloody hard work!

Some days you WILL come home so cold you cant feel your fingers and when you sit in a hot bath it will be cold in two minutes because you've chilled it.

Some days you WILL come home with sunstroke, dehydrated because no matter how many precautions you take, hat, sunscreen, lots of fluid, the meadow needed strimming and you HAD to finish it.

Some days you WILL come home barely able to bend because that border needed digging, the compost needed shifting or the hedge cutting needed to be finished.

Some days you WILL be so lonely you could cry because you haven't spoken to anyone all week, never mind seen anyone.

Some days, you WILL come home covered in scratches from rose thorns, nettle rash or another uncomfortable, painful experience because Gardening as a career is physically hard and often a lonely experience.


If you've done 1 day a week volunteering and you think this might be the choice for you, great! Do a month, 5 days a week. Ask to be treated like a member of staff, get the full, true experience. I saved all my choice jobs for my volunteers as a treat, ok I would also ask them to do the boring mundane tasks too but not as often or for as long as the staff had to do them. As volunteers if they don't enjoy their experience are unlikely to come back and when you rely heavily on volunteer help you will do everything you can to keep them.

In a work situation you are subject to the same pressures as in any other line of work. Management STILL want to see results, there are STILL deadlines to be met and as you climb further up the ladder more meetings, more reports & paperwork and less time doing the thing that drew you to working in Horticulture in the first place, the great outdoors.


I've known Head Gardeners who have been practically crippled by years of physically hard work, arthritis, worn joints, bad backs etc. Who almost never see the gardens they work in due to the amount of office work and planning entailed in running a garden, staff & volunteers. Equally I've known people who have migrated from the volunteer work force who haven't coped or realised what was expected of them when they became full time gardeners. Maybe that's the fault of the employers? Maybe they could have supported them more? eased them into it? Maybe it was a naive expectation on the part of the applicant? Maybe its both their faults, employers offering low wages will not get experienced staff and instead will get applicants lacking in experience applying for jobs that expect too much of them... This again is a whole other issue of some of the things wrong with the Horticulture industry regarding skills, experience and a fair wage... Moving on!


I've been lucky, I've worked for companies that really cared about their staff, created a culture of support and I've developed lifelong friendships with the people I've worked with. I've also experience the total opposite, horrible working environments where staff bullied each other, supported by the management, in fact in one or two cases encouraged and applauded by the management who saw it as a means of "weeding out" the weak links rather than finding a persons strengths or worse still they realise a person doesnt fit in with their plans and try to force them out.

What I'm saying here is that yes there are wonderful places to work in Horticulture, places where you can grow, learn and yes even feel loved but don't they exist in every chosen career? Just because Gardening as hobby can give you a lot of health benefits that doesn't always equate when its a career choice. Its the people you work with that can make or break a job and you're just as likely to walk unwittingly into a lions den of sniping and backbiting in Horticulture as you are in an office based job, the only difference is that your surroundings are prettier.

Please don't read me wrong here, I love my job, I wouldn't change it for the world but I very nearly did! Less than 12 months ago I was so miserable and my confidence in my own abilities had been worn down SO much I nearly quit to go and stack shelves. I figured id get paid more and was less likely to have someone screaming 2 inches off my face in Tesco's (or any other Supermarket of your choice). My mental health was taking a nose dive purely because of my working environment. The pretty surroundings and my joy at being in them was not helping the fact that my EVERY move was being criticised.

Luckily I had a wonderful support network of friends and gardeners who knew me well and knew what I was capable of, I left the job that was crushing my soul and within two weeks had rediscovered my joie de vivre! Best move EVER!

Gardening is wonderful, nothing beats seeing a Garden first thing as the sun comes up on a dewy morning or as the frost melts, seed heads on Phlomis becoming snow covered lollipops, an Orchard in spring literally buzzing and festooned with flowers.

Words cant convey my joy at these things but it doesn't fix everything! Its the people and the working environment that can make or break a situation.

 I guess what I'm trying to say is that sometimes I get worried that Horticulture in the media is all unicorns and rainbow and the hard work and sometimes extreme conditions get glossed over. Hort as a profession suffer exactly the same pitfalls as every other job. Go into it with your eyes wide open & hopefully you will have a long, successful and rewarding career and you'll get to see things like this everyday!

Sunrise in midwinter

Sunrise in midsummer