Why Spending Time Among Nature benefits mental and physical health – important new evidence

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Dr Martin Scurr, a renowned physician, quoted recently in his medical column in a national newspaper from an article in this month’s Clinical Medicine Journal of the Royal College of Physicians. Written by Sir Richard Thompson, the past president, the article was highlighting increasing evidence that plants, green spaces and gardening benefit mental and physical health. Sir Richard Thompson referred to a Japanese study which found that looking at plants alters electrocardiogram readings (which check the electrical activity of the heart), improves mood and reduces pulse rate, muscle tension and blood pressure. Dr Scurr stressed that: “I cannot think of a drug taken in isolation that could achieve this.” He also writes: “…spending time among nature can be transformative.”

In China in every park there are large groups of people practising tai chi in all weathers, as this exercise in the open eases stress, boosts energy and improves well-being, explains Dr Scurr. I absolutely believe that this is so, since at our local hospice the out-patients have a weekly session with a tai chi instructor, and they love it.  As I wrote before, my garden is to me the best therapist there is. No matter how turbulent is the daily news or how stressful my daily life can be, just five minutes into my work in the garden takes all that garbage away, as if a heavy coat has slipped off my shoulders.

PeachRose9 It is a form of meditation but I don’t need to think of my big toe or the end of my nose and empty my head of thoughts, instead by focusing on what is needed to be done to make plants, living creatures, happy, it makes me feel blissfully relaxed and satisfied.  Of course, those who work long hours, commute or have young families, meditation for a short time is without doubt beneficial. The plaque on the wall of my garden carries a Roman maxim: ‘Who plants a garden, plants happiness.’ Dr Scurr paraphrased a saying: ‘If you want to be happy for a month, fall in love; if you want to be happy for a year, get married – but if you want to be happy for life, tend a garden.’ Great man.

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Let me tell you what is happening in my garden in early summer… This year’s roses are exceptionally beautiful, and the ramblers are cascading down the walls and arches as a tsunami of flowers. The scent is intoxicating and so powerful that I have the illusion of being inside a giant perfume bottle. The colours are vivid and bold, others delicate and elegant. One purple climber sprinted up the apple tree and it is a surprise to see these vivid flowers above the crown of the tree.

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This month is also the start of the hydrangeas, and they are giving the performance of a lifetime. I love them because of their generosity shown by their insistence on flowering until the first frost. They are bold and majestic, masses of huge heads in brilliant colours; from pure white, football-size heads of Annabel to deep blue of Zorro, and in-between all the shades of pink. Hydrangeas are also very diverse in their habit, some can grow to 2-3 metres height, others form large bushes, and some are evergreen and climbers.

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Clematis, in all shapes and forms, are essential to the beauty of every garden. Again, they come in strong colours and will brighten any wall, arch or fence. Having several clematis, from early flowering to those which perform in the summer months and autumn, will ensure a constant supply of colour . I based my garden on three main plants: roses, hydrangeas and clematis. Of course, there are hundreds of other shrubs, bushes and perennials here, but the main structure comes from those three, and it works very well. As the summer progresses I will write more about my friends, the plants.

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