From air-purifying plants to money-saving grow-your-own, Shawna Coronado, gardening expert and author of The Wellness Garden, shares seven easy ways you can boost your health with gardening
We already know that gardening is good for us but new research is proving that it can improve more than our mood. In Shawna’s book she discusses tools and tips for growing and harvesting healthy foods, exercising in the garden and redefining garden chores. Here she shares her advice for getting green-fingered and living healthier – whether that’s in your garden, allotment or indoor jungle…
1. Indoor plants can help you breathe easier
Scientists have recently proven that certain plants can help to purify the air we breathe. “The air in our homes can contain certain toxic chemicals caused by mould, strong cleaning products or plastics,” says Shawna. “The NASA Clean Air Study led by NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) recently found that tropical plants can remove these toxic chemicals and work to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.”
Shawna suggests a snake plant for the bedroom as they give out oxygen at night. While Chinese evergreen helps to break down formaldehyde found in cosmetic products, so it’s perfect for kitchens and bathrooms.
2. Rosemary and lavender can improve your focus
“The smell of a summer garden is instantly uplifting,” says Shawna. “But the scent of rosemary and lavender is proven to make us feel more positive, according to a study by biochemists at the University of Northumbria.”
This is because they contain natural compounds that boost our cognitive performance. The study suggests that rosemary can help us feel more alert, while lavender encourages feelings of calm and contentedness. “Try planting these herbs around the sitting area in your garden to create the ultimate chill-out area.”
3. Leafy greens are best for impatient gardeners
For urban gardeners with a balcony or patio, Shawna suggests planting spinach, pea tendrils or radishes this summer. “Not only are they high in fibre and vitamins, helping you create healthier dishes, but they’re also space-saving. Plant them together in tight spaces such as living walls or even on a sunny windowsill. They’re fast growing so you can harvest them sooner. Keep planting every two weeks throughout the spring and summer, and you’ll always have a fresh supply of healthy (and cheap!) veg.”
4. Weeds contain more goodness than you think
Chickweed, stinging nettles, lamb’s quarters and nasturtium are all edible weeds that you might find in the garden or out on country walks. Do make sure you do your research though, before you begin munching! Purslane, which grows in vegetable gardens and at the edges of lawns, was even found by the University of Texas to contain the highest amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant.
“They’re essentially bitter herbs,” says Shawna, “with some rich in calcium, iron and other vitamins. Harvesting, foraging and weeding can also be a calming meditative activity.”
5. Communal gardening is great for your mental health (and wallet)
“Sharing local, home-grown food is a great way to spend time together as a community. It’s proven that having an emotional support system can even help us live longer, according to researchers at Harvard,” says Shawna. “It can also help you save money as you’re more likely to trade stocks of fruit and veg between friends.”
This garden-to-plate way of eating is known as ‘hyperlocal’, which means food that is grown very close to where it’s eaten. Food may have travelled miles before it reaches your table, losing freshness and flavour along the way. University of California studies show that veg can lose 15-55% of vitamin C by the time it reaches the supermarket. “There’s nothing more ‘local’ and ‘nutritious’ than eating the food of your neighbour!” says Shawna.
6. Elevated beds will help with mobility problems
“Whether you have a condition such as osteoarthritis like me or just want an easier gardening experience, elevated gardens are a great idea,” says Shawna. “Growing in elevated (or raised) beds that are a metre high makes gardening much easier because it enables you to work without bending over. Or try a living wall, which raises plants up higher for easier access. You can grow 40 plants in the same space as a window box simply by growing several levels of plants.” You could use the side of a fence, gate, building or a balcony – it’s easier than you think!
7. The garden is one of the best places to do yoga
Both yoga and being outdoors can reduce our stress levels, so practicing yoga outside is the ultimate combination. Even better, the sights and sounds of the garden can help us find the joy in exercising. “We all find it hard to push our thoughts away,” says Shawna. “But focusing on the sounds of the garden – whether it’s the countryside beyond or simply the birds in the trees – can help you be more in-the-moment and flood your mind with natural sounds.”
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