How to Find Sanctuary in a Pandemic

Step away from the news and social media and go outdoors. Your garden, local park or balcony can be your personal sanctuary. Simply stop, take a deep breath and inhale the wonders of nature.

A garden, large or small provides a place of sanctuary in times of crisis Image: Debi Holland

 

We are all finding our own way to cope with our new lock-down lives. At times the situation can feel overwhelming but there are many simple things we can do to relieve anxieties and improve our well-being

Take time to observe the detail of your plants as they grow, flower and fade
Image: Debi Holland

There is much comfort to be had in plants and wildlife at this difficult time. They carry on regardless, photosynthesising, pollinating and propagating, in their carefully balanced ecosystems, oblivious to the challenges we face. It is reassuring to know life goes on; a positive future. Seeds will sow, plants will grow and life will carry on.

Garden therapy

An hour or two of planting, weeding and watering is wonderful garden therapy. Scientific research shows that getting dirty is good for us. Soil contains Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacterium, which releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, natural anti-depressants which makes us happy. Gardens also bring us hope – In the words of Audrey Hepburn ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’

Gardening can help with depression and be tremendously beneficial for people suffering with bereavement, loneliness and illness.

In these unsettled times, gardening may be the perfect antidote to some of our troubles and worries.

As the weeks have progressed people’s appreciation of their own green space, however large or small, has increased. We have had time to really notice what is important in life. These natural processes have been there all along but perhaps we have been too busy to notice. Our lives have reduced in numerous ways, become slower-paced; the rat race temporarily suspended which has meant many of us are discovering a newfound respect for nature.

Use this time to get up close and personal with your own plot and take this opportunity to escape without leaving your own home.

Some plants pack a powerful punch. Morroccan mint looks great but tastes amazing
Image: Debi Holland

Stop, sit and look and I mean really look. Notice the detail within individual leaves and petals; watch how the breeze wafts and sways through tall grasses and foliage. Solace can be found in the morning and late afternoon light igniting leaves, seed heads and shadows and in observing the local mini beasts that come to rest, feed and live in our gardens. When you sit still you find wildlife gains confidence to grace us with a visit, as you have become part of the garden landscape.

Now is the time to embrace our heightened senses and enjoy our gardens to the maximum.

Look

Grab a cuppa, find a quiet spot and sit outside with no distractions other than the plants and wildlife. You will be amazed at how much you suddenly notice. Look up, look around and even lie on the floor and get a bug’s-eye view. From the light shining through petals, to ladybirds crawling along leaves, to bees busily collecting nectar to birds foraging for worms.

Look up as well as down to appreciate all aspects of your plants
Image: Debi Holland

Take photos, home in on the detail and record all these magical moments. It’s all going on right under our noses, we just need to look.

Listen

A major change I have found during lockdown has been the noise levels. It is so quiet, apart from nature, who has found its voice and boy has it really turned up the volume or is it rather that we have turned down our volume and allowed the birds and the bees to be heard above our industrial racket? Sound has become one of the most powerful, calming aspects of lockdown.

Garden birds add a whole new dimension to the summer sounds
Image: Debi Holland

Embrace the vehicle silence and celebrate nature’s voice. When I sit in my garden I normally hear the constant rattle of buses, cars and planes, which is rather frustrating. Now the overriding sound is birds singing their hearts out and what an uplifting, joyous performance that is.

Smell

Scent is one of our most evocative, memory provoking senses we possess. It is a great way to reminisce, relax and feel connected to people, special occasions or childhood. The powerful scent of tomato plants or intoxicating sweet peas can cast us back to days gone by.

Many plants found in our gardens naturally have medicinal properties. As well as scent they also make great teas!

To help sooth, calm and aid sleep there’s no better than lavender or chamomile. Need a boost? Try mood enhancing herbs lemon balm, marjoram and thyme. And lift spirits by smelling rosemary, mint and the beautiful blooms of jasmine and roses.

The power of flower scent is beyond words
Image: Debi Holland

Touch

Don’t be afraid to get touchy feely with your garden. Plants are a myriad of textures and shapes and have their own unique wonders. Try Buddleia mint, Mentha longifolia and Lamb’s Ears, Stachys byzantina for their felt-like leaves. Stroking their leaves is remarkably soothing! Or gently run your fingers over allium flower heads or the frothy foliage of fennel.

Textures abound in the garden if you actually stop and feel
Image: Debi Holland

Taste

Relax and indulge in the simple pleasure of eating produce from your own plot. Whether it is herbs on a windowsill, edible flowers in a pot or foraging under leaves for juicy ripe strawberries, nothing will taste quite as pure and satisfying as homegrown food.

When every plant earns its place, its flowers and its uses are important. Chives taste great and the flowers are rich in nectar
Image: Debi Holland

As lock-down gradually eases and life evolves into a ‘new’ norm, I hope we don’t forget the important things that have helped us through, that kept us sane when the world felt like it was falling apart. We will all move forward but hopefully carry with us the realisation that gardening, plants and wildlife have lifted our spirits, improved well-being and enabled us to practice mindfulness.

Never forget to stop, look and listen, touch and taste. You will feel all the better for it.

 

Debi Holland

About Debi Holland

Debi runs her own gardening business in the South West. She has an RHS diploma in Horticulture; studied at Bristol Botanic Gardens and Cannington Walled Garden and was a volunteer Harvester at the National Trust Tyntesfield Estate. She is obsessed with plants and wildlife and loves to visit gardens and seek out plants in their natural habitat. Debi is an avid propagator and seed sower of ornamentals and edibles and a passionate photographer and writer. Her gardening diary can be found at www.debihollandgardening.com
@DHgardening
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