Gardening for the senses

We know that being outside has a positive impact on our well-being. If lockdown taught us anything, it’s that ‘the great outdoors’ lives up to its name. The natural world can boost your mood, memory and creativity, as well as improve our mental health. So, if just a few minutes outside can fast-track you to happiness, surely one of the quickest ways to lift your spirits is to step into your own garden?

Spending time outside should be a multi-sensory experience, from the fragrance of plants to the sight of energising blooms. Plants chosen to stimulate the senses will make your garden a sanctuary where you feel happy and calm – and the gardening might even encourage some gentle exercise too. Read on for an increase in feel-good endorphins.

gardening to improve mental health

A rainbow of colour

Colour in your garden is oh-so important. Asides from adding interest, colours have varying effects from drawing attention to invoking a certain feeling. Plus, a sea of bright blooms can conjure up a smile from the second you flick open the blinds each morning.

While our gardens may not have been filled with the cheer and happiness of family and friends recently, yellow blooms do a stellar job of raising spirits. For the happiest garden in the neighbourhood, Dahlias come in a range of sunny hues and put on a show in summer and autumn. Marigolds are a fuss-free annual that are available in beaming shades of yellow and orange.

Red-flowered plants can be the crowning glory of a planting scheme. They also sit nicely next to zingy oranges, cornflower blues and plum-coloured petals. Geraniums are low maintenance and have a long bloom time, which makes them an ideal choice if you’re seeking some much-wanted colour. Likewise, Snapdragons have a lengthy flowering period. As well as their vivid colour, their distinctive spike of flowers makes them a bold addition to borders.

We all know pink is the prettiest colour on the spectrum. One of the most attractive plants, Dianthus Pink Kisses have delicate bi-colour petals and a compact shape. Fuchsias and Petunias are other top choices for softening the mood.

Not only is green the colour of life and nature, it has restorative and energising powers too. Max out on this stress-busting colour with Hebe, Ferns and Buxus. Green foliage is also great for balancing the brighter plants in your garden.

colourful garden ideas

Making scents of your garden

Surrounding yourself by plants can have a dramatic impact on your mood - when you think about it, this usually comes from our nose, not our eyes. Despite this, the sense of smell is sometimes overlooked when it comes to designing gardens, but fragrance adds an extra layer of richness, regardless of what size space you have. Balconies can benefit from pots of gorgeous floral aroma just as much as a never-ending backyard.

For knockout fragrance, Roses are a trusted favourite. Choose from classic rich-smelling varieties that are steeped in nostalgia to those with a strong, musky aroma. Grow them next to a path, bench or front door so you can take full advantage of their scented blooms.

Jasmine are fragrant climbers that can be planted now to kick off spring. Their star-shaped flowers have a sweet, distinctive fragrance, pungent enough to add scent to your garden and beyond.

Not only does Honeysuckle look beautiful spilling over a trellis or fence, it has a fruity and warm fragrance. Its welcoming scent is enough to draw anyone’s attention on a summer’s evening, and the flowers earn their keep well enough in the brightness of the midday sun.

A tough, easy-to-grow plant, Lavender is loved for its richly fragrant flowers and aromatic foliage. This calming plant has been used for centuries, thanks to its healing properties and relaxing fragrance.

Place these plants where they’ll be appreciated most, even if you can’t see them directly. Try fragrant varieties underneath windows that you open in the summer, so you can pick up their scent on the breeze. They also never go unnoticed potted in containers by front doors and walkways. Keeping scents separate is also key. You want to move from identified pots of lavender and onto a herb patch, rather than be overwhelmed with plants pumping out the perfume.

Plan for seasonality. Don’t throw all of your big guns into summer. You can rely on heavy hitters such as roses and lavender, but it’s good to have a succession of scents so there’s something to enjoy every month.

garden scents

Plant, harvest, eat, repeat

It’s great to have a plot that looks colourful and smells delightful, but wouldn’t it be more impressive if your outdoors doubled up as a kitchen garden? Herbs are one of the quickest and easiest ways to enjoy the garden-to-plate (or cocktail) experience.

Just like how no cook wants to be without herbs, no gardener wants to be without them for the fragrances they bring outside. They’ll squeeze into pockets or windowsills and a little goes a long way. Mediterranean-style herbs, such as bay, rosemary, thyme and sage, love warm, sunny spots – they release their fragrant oils when the sun hits too. Parsley and mint, are happiest in normal gardens in sun or light shade. The beauty of these herbs is that they can be bought ready to go, so you can enjoy them straight away.

While herbs are traditionally added to dishes, they can be used to make the most delicious brews. Try mint to help aid digestion, All of these little flavour bombs can be used in cooking, but if you have herbs aplenty, make your own flavoured oils. Place a few good-looking woody sprigs in a jar of decent olive oil and leave for a few weeks. Or, keep them at hand all-year-round by freezing them. Chop your chosen herbs finely, place in an ice cube tray and top up with water.

Most fruit and vegetables will be ready to harvest from June onwards. Early-fruiting strawberries such as Honeoye will be juicy and plump by mid-June, early July. Planting a mix of varieties means you’ll enjoy delicious strawberries for several months, avoiding a glut.

Despite being a vegetable, Rhubarb is considered to be one of the earliest fruits of the year. Ready to harvest by early summer, it produces masses of delicious stalks. Turn them into refreshing cordials or stew with sugar to top porridges or line crumbles.

gardening ideas

Go green, get lean

Asides from gardening being a multi-sensory experience, it serves as exercise for your body and mind. Whether you’re transporting plants or turning a compost pile, these activities improve cognitive function and the ability to concentrate. These outdoor jobs can be a physical workout too – think low levels of cardio to chores that get every muscle group working. Weeding or harvesting? Comparative to a moderate walk. Raking the lawn? Similar to a leisurely bike ride. Shifting wood instead of lifting dumbbells? Pass the sweat towel. Plus, who wants to slog it in the gym while the sun is shining?

So, the next time you’re feeling lethargic, stressed or under the weather, try getting a little dirt under those nails and then take in what you’ve done to the place.

gardening to improve your health