Entering spring, this is the perfect time to get your hands dirty in the garden, or in the home, by bringing nature into your surroundings. Wheelchair user, gardener and BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Mark Lane speaks to Emma Storr about the importance of plants and his top gardening tips.
As the nation went into lockdown during March 2020, many people entered spring with a new passion: gardening. Utilising the smallest spaces, this new hobby added colour to everyday life.
Now, a year later, it is time to have your seeds at the ready as we enter spring.
The connection we feel to nature from our houseplants to green areas near us goes back hundreds of years, Mark explains: “We have an innate need to be surrounded by greenery and it goes back to being hunters and gatherers and living on the land and we still need that connection to nature.
“We’ve had a period of time where we weren’t able to connect with each other, so being able to connect with nature and plants is a great way of dealing with that.”
Spending time outdoors, or bringing the outdoors inside, is beneficial for both physical and mental wellbeing.
“I think people always underestimate the importance of garden and outdoor space,” admits Mark. “With all of us being locked down and not being able to meet with other people, the ability to go out, and in some cases just being able to look out onto greenery or to care for or have plants on a patio or balcony is so beneficial, and you don’t need a huge space, it can be done in the smallest of spaces.
“We all like the idea of being outside surrounded by nature but at the same time if you can’t get out then why not bring nature into the house?”
Whether it’s a spare shelf, a windowsill or just an empty corner in your home, anywhere can be turned into a green space that fits your area and taste.
If you started gardening last spring, or you haven’t done it before, it is the ideal time to start this hobby again.
“I hope that everyone continues with it because gardening, for me, was a life saver after my accident; gardening was really the thing that made me see the light at the end of the tunnel and I think the more you can do it the more you are learning because gardening always changes,” reveals Mark.
Can not can’t
Anyone can garden and you shouldn’t be restricted due to mobility or other issues. Finding what works for you is key.
“The first thing I would always say to people is to look at yourself in a sense of what it is you can do on a day-to-day basis within the home,” advises Mark. “If you can reach for a tap or you can twist your arm or torso just make a mental note of that then if you can’t do that, then what can you do?
“It’s focussing on what you can achieve then you find an analogy outside in the garden by carefully looking at what you can and can’t do, you can then put it into gardening.”
Adapted tools and equipment can be helpful when considering what you can do in the garden, and one of Mark’s favourite hacks is using a raised bed instead of a traditional planter or bed.
“If you can’t kneel down or lean forward then think about raising the garden to your height,” offers Mark. “If you can’t twist your torso but you like the idea of lifting the garden up then just use a table because a raised bed with a flat edge won’t help if you won’t be able to twist to get full function of the bed.
“If using raised beds: don’t make it too deep in width, see how far you can stretch your arm and only make it as deep as that, there’s no point having raised beds that are two metres deep if you can’t get to the other side.”
Finding out what works for you in the garden might take some careful thinking and time, but the more you try, the more you will learn.
“It’s about assessing what your physical limitations are and what you are able to do and look at those abilities you do have and transfer that into gardening,” summarises Mark.
If you fancy getting green fingers this spring, you don’t have to do it alone.
There are a host of organisations with advice and information on what to grow, when to grow it and how to adapt your green space to make it accessible, no matter if you live in a flat or have a garden.
“There’s a lot of information on the internet so I would always say look at about two to three pages and read over the descriptions and what it says in each one, make sure they all follow the same lines and if something doesn’t sound right just find another one,” suggests Mark.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the world’s leading gardening charity, enriching people’s lives through plants and making the world a greener place.
The organisation has easy to follow gardening guides, runs courses and workshops and has gardens you can visit across the UK.
For disability-specific gardening advice, the Gardening for Disabled Trust is a great resource. The charity is helping people to get into gardening despite disability, issuing grants to help individuals make their gardens accessible, offering ideas and inspiration for your garden, and has helpful tips to make small changes to increase the accessibility of gardening.
Funded by donations, the Trust has helped thousands of people with disabilities over the last 50 years, helping to provide items like raised beds, planters, adaptations to paved and steps to make gardens more accessible and safe.
If you think that someone you care for or support would benefit from gardening, Thrive run social and therapeutic horticulture programmes in England for disabled people or people with ill health.