Kim Wilde explains how gardening can be great therapy and suggests ways of getting started in your own garden, a window box or local allotment.
Gardening certainly began as a therapy for me, a way to unwind after a hectic and sometimes stressful day. I didn't have my own garden until I moved out of London when I was 30, but I had an instinctive urge to get my hands dirty! I vividly remember returning from a working trip abroad, dressed in my 'pop-star' best and going straight out into the garden to train my Pyracantha.
I haven't changed much, and often still garden in completely inappropriate clothes and shoes, such as a nightdress or platform mules. For once outside I am transported into a world where plants and the natural world soothe my senses and I lose all idea of time. Guiltily I have to admit that I've often got stuck into some gardening, and my children's lunch has turned into afternoon tea!
With many of us leading busy and often stressful lifestyles, gardening can always be depended upon to set its own gentle pace, providing the perfect antidote to 21st century life.
Gardening not only provides the feelgood factor, but is a wonderful way to exercise. Of course, by exercise I don't mean just a gentle potter in and out of the shed, but like all moderate cardiovascular exercise it can help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and even reduce heart disease and strokes. Just being out in the sunshine helps the body to make vitamin D too, which is essential for healthy bones.
Clearly, gardening has a lot to offer a wide range of people, especially those who might not otherwise get out much including the disabled, elderly or those with very young children. The therapeutic value of gardening is of benefit to all. It can renew energy, build confidence and increase self-esteem.
So how do you go about gardening if you haven't done so before? If you don't own a garden, then you could become one of the growing numbers of people returning to the great British tradition of allotments. Not only are people becoming more interested in growing their own, but allotments are a great place to socialise, swap plants and tips. Depending on where you are, allotments should cost from £6 to £50 per year for a plot around 9m by 6m.
Container growing is ideal for those with very small gardens or balconies, you can grow anything from potatoes to roses. Raised beds filled with good-quality topsoil and organic matter are the perfect solution to gardens with heavy, clay soil, or for people who hate digging. If you make them 55-75cm tall, they will be the perfect height for sitting on while you tend to your plants, so no more bending down on your knees! Make raised beds no wider than you are able to reach into the middle from either side, about 1,5m wide. Also, try to avoid wood that has been treated with tar if you are growing vegetables - try lining it with plastic instead.
Sensory gardens are really gaining popularity, with plants to delight all five of our senses: lavender, mint and pelargonium smell wonderful, especially when the foliage is rubbed, bamboo and pampas grass rustle softly in the wind, sweet tomatoes and strawberries taste wonderful when freshly picked; and Stachys byzantina is an easy-to-grow perennial with leaves that feel like fur.
The educational value of gardening should not be underestimated, and schools are increasingly incorporating it into the national curriculum. Research too shows it can no longer be treated as a trivial pursuit, but can be used as a valuable tool in helping vulnerable adults beat a range of health and social problems including depression, by boosting their self-esteem and confidence.
So if you've only ever thought of gardening as something that your grandparents did, perhaps it's time to make it a part of your life and reap its many rich rewards.