Nourishment of mind and body – Why so many of our projects feature gardens

29 Mar 2023

“Everyone needs a Natural Health Service as well as a National Health Service” – British physician Sir Muir Gray

This spring we launch our first ever All Women Splash Project. In eight hours a squad of 40 women will transform an underused patch of grass into a sensory growing garden for the community of Littleham in Exmouth, Devon, UK.

The benefits of gardens

Spending time in the fresh air amid nature and green spaces lifts the spirit. Although intangible, the impact on humans’ wellbeing is a given. But in recent years there has been much evidence-based research conducted by academics and scientists alike offering proof about the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature and gardening.

In our search to find some examples, we came across this insightful article produced by the RHS just over three years ago. Here are our favourite highlights:

  • Patients with rooms overlooking nature recover quicker than those who face buildings.
  • Gardening is recognised as having a positive impact on wellbeing under the NHS’s ‘social prescribing’ scheme.
  • Half-an-hour’s gardening burns as many calories as playing volleyball for the same duration.
  • Gardening has been found to significantly reduce anxiety and depression.
  • There is a lower incidence of 15 illnesses – including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines – in people who lived within half a mile of green space.

Here’s what our Project Managers have to say about Splash Gardens…

“Gardens bring people together,” says our Operations Director Phil Weeks, also one of our Project Managers. “We’ve done loads of gardens, absolutely loads over the years. Hundreds, probably.

“Around 60 per cent of our projects incorporate garden elements. The vast majority of our projects are outside, but our charity partners love how sensory gardens provide so many benefits for their residents or patients.

“Growing gardens are also really popular and have a particularly profound impact in urban areas.

“For example, last autumn, we included growing planters into a playground we built at a school in a deprived area of North London where none of the children had gardens because they all lived in the surrounding high-rise apartments. This gave them the chance to grow their own fruit and vegetables which would be used in their school dinners.

“The difference gardens make to people can’t really be quantified – I could see how much it meant to the children watching their enjoyment as they played with the soil, letting it run through their fingers…”

Project Manager Tommy Trindall, who leads projects in France, added: “Gardens are incredibly therapeutic for people of any age. One of our projects last year with INSEAD involved creating a garden for severely disabled children who are only able to lie down.

“The team built a bespoke low platform, with wheels, to allow the children to be wheeled around the garden at the same level of the flowers.

“This new platform gave the children a whole new perspective among the flowers. The effect it had was really quite amazing.”

All Women Splash Project

We had no idea what the take-up would be like, but within a fortnight of the launch on International Women’s Day (March 8th) we were oversubscribed with like-minded (they are all excited to relinquish their Saturday and help out their community) women.

Taking place this weekend, the 15m x 14m site surrounds Littleham Leisure Centre, a modest community hall used for clubs and activity groups, housing a community café and food bank several times a week.

The ward of Littleham has a population just shy of 7,000 and has a large percentage of social housing. While the land is owned by the local Church of England parish church, the centre is operated and funded by The Wave, a Baptist Church and charity, which has acquired a grant to cover the cost of materials for the build.

We all decided upon a garden, given their far-reaching benefits for all ages and abilities. By teatime, the team will have created a beautiful space featuring six large, raised planting beds which will be used for growing fruits and vegetables, additional herb beds, a large communal picnic bench, a potting table, bug hotel and composting area.

This is a not-for-profit project, and we will be covering the costs of all the manpower before, during and after the project day; it’s our way of giving back to our community. We are most grateful to the local businesses who came forward to sponsor the project too – Jewson Exeter (cash donation) Exmouth Power Tools (fixtures & fittings) and Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs (plants), Ottery St Mary – their generosity has massively helped us keep costs down.

Branch Manager for Jewson Exeter, Richard Scott, who is also a Devon County Councillor for Exmouth, said: “I will be bringing my daughter along on the day, because, although she’s too young to help, I want her to see a group of women in action and see they’re just as capable as a group of men.” 

No experience is necessary for any of our projects, which are incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experiences; the day starts with tools and health and safety briefings, and our experienced Project Facilitators offer guidance throughout the experience.

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