Across the UK, there are an estimated 330,000 allotment plots where gardeners of all calibres are taking up the trowel, and growing their own produce. But the benefits go much further than the kitchen table...
Dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, and popularised in the 20th Century, allotments are all about empowering people to take ownership of the land, and grow their own food. Often acting as a community hub, and offering much-needed outdoor space in a modern world where many people – myself included – don’t have access to a garden, it’s no surprise that The National Allotment Society estimates that at least 90,000 people in the UK are currently on a waiting list for a plot.
With that in mind, I was overjoyed when I was offered a 125 square foot plot on my local allotment site earlier this year. But, as I soon found out, it wasn’t just the plants that were flourishing. Here’s how taking on an allotment can be fruitful for your mental health.
Soaking up the benefits of the great outdoors
There’s no doubt that spending time outdoors is great for us. A study from the Netherlands found that every 10% increase in a person’s exposure to green spaces translates into a health improvement equivalent to being five years younger – and a report from the University of Exeter Medical School found that spending just 120 minutes a week out in nature is enough to significantly boost your wellbeing.
For me, if I’m having a day where worries and stress are intruding into the rest of my life, I know that my mood will be instantly lifted the moment that I walk through the gates of my allotment site. There’s nothing quite like spending an hour or so breathing in the fresh air, and taking in the sounds of nature, to get you out of a rut.
It can be incredibly mindful
Whether you’re working your way through some weeds, digging a new bed, pruning or planting, a lot of the work you do on an allotment is repetitive – making it the perfect way to let your hands go onto autopilot, while your mind takes in the sensations around you, or gently wonders.
Taking a moment to recognise the feeling of soil between your fingers, the scents of your plants, and the feeling of the air on your skin are all things that can help ground us in the present moment when anxiety threatens to take over.
There's power in a to-do list
An allotment is a commitment, and it needs to be maintained regularly in order to stay in top form. Weeds can quickly take over, and some crops will need to be tended to very carefully. For me, my allotment is a reason to get myself outside and moving – even on days when I’m feeling sluggish, and the thought of parking myself on the sofa all day is a bit too tempting.
There’s always a job, or five, to do down at the plot – and an allotment can give you a routine, and somewhere to funnel your energy into all year round.
Reaping the rewards
From the moment that you see the first sprout poking through the soil, all the way through to when you’re cooking up a storm with produce from your plot, there’s nothing quite like the knowledge that all this has come from the seeds you planted and tended to yourself.
Allotments reward your effort, and the more work that you put in, the more that you will be able to get back. And what’s better is that you can share produce with friends and family, with some allotment sites also joining forces with food banks to donate excess fruit and veg to those who need it most.
It provides some much-needed peace and quiet
It’s so easy to get caught up in the digital world, endlessly scrolling, and jumping from one thing to the next. Allotments reconnect you with the natural world, build self-sufficiency, and are an opportunity to slow everything down, and put your focus into one thing.
Our modern lives are so busy, chock full of emails, traffic, and noise. For me, working on my allotment is my me-time, and a vital form of self-care. It’s a chance to be quiet, and to think. And it leaves me feeling rejuvenated and energised in a way nothing else quite does.
Interested in applying for an allotment? Head to gov.uk to find a site near you.