Budding horticulturalists take note – gardening is now more accessible than ever before.
Gardening is a rewarding hobby with wide-ranging benefits, from improving your health to making neighbours jealous of your gorgeous geraniums.
Whether your disability is mental or physical, a touch of horticultural therapy is proven to boost your overall well being and reconnect you with nature.
“Gardening can give individuals a great sense of accomplishment,” says Neil Wilcox, information officer at disability gardening charity Thrive. “There’s a sense of achievement involved when you sow a seed, nurture it, watch the plant grow and perhaps then harvest it to be cooked in the kitchen.”
Physical exercise is another advantage of working in the garden. Horticultural therapy is applied to assist in stroke recovery, building up their muscles to aid rehabilitation. It can be applied in the same way for a broad spectrum of disabilities, utilising and training muscle groups without being too strenuous.
“There are loads of physical benefits to gardening,” says Neil. “It helps just being outside, moving around and improving your muscle tone and stamina. It can also increase your flexibility and strength, or make up part of a programmed recovery from traumatic events.”
If your disability prevents you from getting into the great outdoors or downstairs to the back yard, table-top gardening is also an option. You can have home grown blooms in your living room or even grow your own herb garden on a kitchen counter.
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“You can always grow cress or salad leaves on a windowsill,” says Neil. “Or plant some bulbs in a pot and watch them flower. There are great passive effects to being surrounded by nature, and with gardening there’s a real sense of working the land and learning to appreciate our living planet. There’s a great feeling of being connected to nature.”
There’s also a social aspect to this green-fingered past time. Community gardens and horticultural therapy programmes are cropping up around the country, bringing people together to learn new skills and make new friends. Thrive offer gardening groups for people with varying disabilities and learning difficulties, making the growing of flowers and vegetables more accessible and rewarding for disabled participants.
“The social aspect of gardening is really important,”says Neil. “In my own experience as a horticultural therapist, it’s interesting when you see individuals getting used to working within a group. You can see a dramatic change, particularly within individuals with autism or mental health problems. People become more able to co-operate with others, challenging behaviour is reduced and people begin to feel less isolated.”
Perhaps you were a seasoned gardener earlier in your life, but nowadays find yourself restricted by your disability? Adapted gardening tools, such as extra support cuffs and grips, make the experience far more accessible. Thrive’s ‘Carry On Gardening’ website offers product advice as well as top gardening tips for disabled people.
“‘Have a go!” says Neil. “Start off with a small project – gardening in pots or containers, or a small area of the garden. Easy does it.”
Visit THRIVE to find out more.