JOAN Williams was retired and in her late 40’s when she dug her hands into the soil and began planting her own garden for the first time in her life. Williams lived in a townhouse and she had only a limited space to do any significant amount of gardening. The first thing she planted was a hedge because she wanted some privacy, then she planted a black olive tree—a favourite of hers—which has since become home to a bird nest or two.
That was 14 years ago. Today Williams has all the privacy she could wish for and the black olive tree is almost two storeys high. Throughout the years, Williams has spent numerous hours planting, pruning, watering and working on her garden which has taken on several variations. In the middle of a concrete jungle, Williams has created her own oasis which in turn is also an oasis for hummingbirds and beetles, bees and butterflies.
“Gardening is food for the soul,” Williams told the Express. “It’s therapeutic and it helps you to relax and you take pride in your garden.”
Javed Omardeen has more space to work with than Williams—his family has a cocoa estate in Brasso Seco and on that estate Omardeen does organic gardening. He plants ginger, turmeric, christophine, dasheen, tania, bananas, yam, cassava, oranges, pineapples, passion fruit and corn.
“Being out in the garden and farming, even on a small scale is very enjoyable, it’s calming and relaxing. Watching the plants grow over a period of time brings joy to my heart. It’s a great feeling to produce your own food and to eat what you personally have grown, I get a great amount of enjoyment seeing the fruit mature and emerge from the tree,” said Omardeen.
Gardening has always been recognised as a form of therapy and we could all use a little more dirt in our lives, said landscaper, horticulturalist and agricultural officer II at the Ministry of Food Production, Chandrawti Kissun.
“Plants provide us an escape. Whether through passive viewing or active gardening, our minds let go of current worries and become absorbed in positive thoughts of beauty, renewal and wonder. It has been reported that gardeners have more physical activity, claimed more energy and rate their overall health higher than non-gardeners,” said Kissun.
That would explain why Williams, Omardeen and Calvin Merrin feel such a close, personal connection to their gardens.
“I don’t get any financial gain from my gardening but it gives me something that I could not pay for out there. I have been involved with gardening for the effects it has on me, healthwise it gives me what I need,” said Merrin.
Numerous studies demonstrate both physical and mental health benefits for older adults, including higher vegetable intake, better hand strength and higher self-esteem, said Kissun.
“Dirt is a natural anti depressant—literally. The primordial delight of digging and crumbling soil with your bare hands results in the potent release of mycobacterium vaccae bacteria, known to the brain. This assists in better moods,”she added.
Some of the therapeutic benefits one can gain from gardening include better mental health, exercise, stress relief and nutrition—as a general rule, said Kissun, dark coloured vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, beet and red bell pepper and eggplant tend to have higher antioxidant levels. Interacting with nature also helps our bodies to heal and gardening reconnects us to the cycles of nature, said Kissun.
Kissun quoted the results of one study in Uppsala, Sweden, where 160 post-operative patients were asked to look at a landscape, an abstract artwork, or no picture. Those who looked at the landscape had lower anxiety, required less pain medication and spent a day less in hospital than the other patients.
Gardening is also good for the environment. On Omardeen’s organic farm, cocoa is the main attraction, the main crop. However among the organic fruits and vegetables which he grows, Omardeen also plants other trees in between. This serves a dual purpose- not only do the trees give him additional crops but they also fertilise or add nutrients to the soil, this is especially true of leguminous trees which add nitrogen to the soil. Healthy soil will sustain not only the plants but also soil-dwelling organisms. Omardeen is also mindful to grow plants that attract insects and bees in order to increase pollination as much as possible.
Gardening can be done in any space, regardless of how small once there is sufficient light and drainage, said managing director at Growbox Home and Garden Centre, Peter Poon Kwong. Vertical gardening—a technique for growing plants on a vertical surface such as a wall or trellis—can also beautify drab walls and maximise planting space. Herbs and leafy vegetables perform well by this method, he said. If you have an available space in your backyard, you can get larger grow boxes and incorporate your vegetable gardening with flowering plants to create a spectacular edible landscape.
“You can also practise innovative ways of using common waste as containers for plants such as tyres, old pots, mugs, broken vases and paint buckets—these all can be very economical and once used tastefully can be quite attractive. Ensure that containers have drainage holes to prevent root rot,” he said.
At Growbox HGC, you can find landscaping products and solutions to help you maximise any space big or small and get your gardening off to a good, solid start. Visit them today at www.facebook.com/GrowboxHGC or contact them at 677- 6388.