First a quote from a highly respected friend.

“No scent is as wonderful as that of freshly dug soil. Oh – the scent of grass and air after a thunderstorm comes close. And I loved having my bare hands right in the soil – I never used gardening gloves unless I had to deal with brambles and such.”

Outwardly this quote celebrates the senses of touch and smell.  But in the subconscious it goes much further than our conscious awareness of sight, taste and hearing.  There we are taken into the complex interaction of sensory perception and consciousness.  What added value do our somatosensory, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular and visual systems have in the overall mix of perception?  When variations of temperature, air pressure, movement, balance, spatial orientation, the chemistry of the environment, colour and pain are thrown into the mix.  How can we possibly be aware of our individual potential with such a limited understanding of ourselves and the environment in which we live?

When that sensory kaleidoscope meets with our ability to memorise, reason, think, and the chemical reactions and electricity of emotion then our world opens up.  Together these things are an acknowledgement of being human and living in the real world.  A spiritual world in which we belong and a world in which we have evolved to inhabit and try to understand.  In this world we exist in our conscious and subconscious


Turning soil can be repetitive but it can be done to some degree in a state of automation. 


The repetition of manual labour allows the distraction needed to free the mind from the continual tsunami of information that is the burden of technology.  The more information we have the more we need to cure the disorientation, like a vicious circle.   As the content and speed of information increases our contentment reduces and our attention span shortens.   We look for surprise in the endless flow of packets of data.

If we leave our conscious mind to deal with that ticking clock of anxiety and escape into our subconscious we escape into the realms of sensory perception, deep thought and meditation.

Time to dream and explore the mind and the senses.


Digging the new vegetable patch is such a time.


Drudgery has been taken away by machines and mass production.  We have been freed from many of the hardships of life.  Pain has been taken away by drugs.  Drugs defined as pharmaceuticals and those that are non-pharmaceutical.  There are many easy options and many opportunities to save oneself from the difficulties of life.  Comfort and convenience can become routine, routines can become habits and habits become addictions and addictions become prisons.

Surely we are in such a prison now?


Break down the earth with the side of the fork.


Sharing can be an unselfish act.  There is a theory that all our actions are, in some way, selfish.  In questioning the motives of our actions and thoughts, and discerning what is selfish or unselfish, we wander into an area that can be difficult to navigate.  Surely common sense must play a part as with the common sense offered in such script as the New Testament, Buddhist teachings and Natural Law?  If we can ‘love oneself’ then we can see that in the context of the Golden Rule “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Human behaviour has evolved over such a time it is embedded into our DNA.  To question is a natural action and part of that evolution. To question is the basis of all scientific endeavour.  Instinctively we know what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad.  We have an inherent moral compass, a compass that can be found wanting in more than one direction.  Guilt and selfishness are but two destructive emotions that can skew that moral compass.


Be careful not to put the fork into your foot.


Addiction, obsession and dogma will help remove the pain of life and the hardship of questioning, they dull the senses, inhibit choice and erode the ability to question and explore oneself.  They can produce subconscious arguments that are self-fulfilling, hiding oneself from reality.

There are rational and practical arguments for the removal of mundane matters.  The freedom acquired thus comes with responsibilities, as do all freedoms, and voids to fill.  If that void is not filled what then?  It becomes hard to justify the need to remove those mundane matters if we cannot deal with ourselves.

Consider at least two directions in our paths.  Regression or progression, idleness or productivity, retreat or advance, ultimately bringing happiness or sorrow.  We may travel in either direction multiple times in a lifetime not always out of choice.  Choice is not the same as chance but with both we can always aspire to do better.


The soil is full of hope and promise as each clod is turned.


It must always be more important to know ‘how one thinks’ rather than ‘what one knows’.  That is an argument for the humanities over the sciences.  The consequences of literature, art, history, as well as human morality, culture, and values will always trump technology, geology or any of the other ‘ologies’ that deal with what we know about our environment.

If only it were that simple.  Possibly the truth is in balance where the two are inextricably intertwined.  A ‘model’ that creates a conflict between two aspects of human endeavour must surely be fundamentally flawed and a rethink required?

Is our method of questioning, or indeed our method of thinking, fundamentally flawed?


How sweet the little Robin is.  Friendship without commitment.


At some point AI will solve the problems of science and so scientists will become ‘technicians’ until even that occupation becomes redundant.

What will we be left with?  Will decisions be about what we want to happen, how we want to live, what is our purpose, and basically, who we are or what we can become?  At that point the Technological Age will be over, denigrated to that of the Iron Age and another ‘age’ of human enlightenment will begin.  But before we have the chance to stop and think Technology may enslave us and prevent us from filling the void created by the removal of ‘mundane things’.  An Age of Enlightenment, if one were to exist, will be found in the humanities not in the sciences.  It will be an age of spiritual understanding.

If we continue on our quest for ultimate technology the real world may be eclipsed by the virtual world.  This is already happening with smart phones where a mixed reality of social media and reliance on ‘apps’ to think takes away real world experiences; a death by a thousand emoji and packets of shallow information.  Is ‘mixed reality’ augmented reality or a slippery slope to a loss of real world ability and independence?  How appealing ‘virtual reality’ sounds, but is in fact a reality that is anything but virtuous.  Should it not be called artificial or synthetic reality?

How language matters.  How meanings are lost.

All beginnings have ends.  Likewise all ends give opportunities for new beginnings. In the human world we have no control over time or the workings of the universe.  No one can save us from death but we strive to do our best while we are alive.


The worms will forgive you, but try and spare them


The frailty and vulnerability of humans has always allowed for plenty of personal mistakes, but our weaknesses and ignorance also allow for manipulation, control and predation by those who seek power.

Our internal demons of greed, lust, pride, guilt, fear, dogma, are joined by external ones of control, domination and exploitation.  Technology is the new ‘tool’ of the jailer.  Not technology itself but our obsession with it.  Those controllers design the toys to escalate addiction, obsession and reliance.

Are we neglecting our emotional and mental health, cutting away our spiritual roots and corrupting our moral compass for the convenience and comfort afforded by technology?  By choosing the deception of someone else’s reality we ignore the wonders of the real world.  In forfeiting our own privacy, freedoms and individual independence, we allow a bogus world to eclipse our individual search for truth.

Information and communication have never been better.  The value of temptation is known by those who wield power.  They are not saddled with the weight of guilt or the need for balance, their moral compass was broken a long time ago.


Remove that piece of couch grass and the bindweed.  Those pernicious weeds will have their own place but not here.


By corrupting science ‘the powers that be’ control the mother of technology.  By owning technology they control those obsessed with technology.  The evidence is all around us and becoming clearer by the day.  There are many interpretations of the acronym ‘SMART’; strategic, motivating, agreed, relevant and trackable are as popular as any, but one point must be made clear the objective is not primarily meant for our benefit.  How naïve we are, not to realise it is a tool with which to manage us.

In the emerging virtual world of the meta-verse will we have the colour and diversity of the real world?  Will our experiences belong to us?  Will limitations, responsibilities and consequences be selective or imposed?  Will we find truth?

Living in the prison of the virtual world where privacy and independence do not exist, will we eat virtual bread and drink virtual water?

Attempts to understand and deal with this mass psychosis being imposed upon us is not just  a spiritual struggle within ourselves but a battle with those that wish us harm, and surely they exist.  Rediscovering reality and deciding what really matters.  Rethinking how we think and asking ourselves “what do we want to become?”


“The Lord grant that we may all be tillers of the soil” 

Nikolai Gogol


We may find our own Xanadu, but it won’t be easy.

As the space ship docks to the sound of Strauss’s Blue Danube we can only hope that the humans on board are not just trans-human biological components of the ship’s operating systems.  Let us hope that they still have those incredible senses that make us unique spiritual entities.

The final notes wisp into the ether and the beat of a metronome surfaces only to be replaced by the sound of a ticking clock.  Time will tell.


Well that is the new vegetable patch dug. What now…ah yes garden compost?  Pay attention now…..


Written by a PenwithCAN member



Cultivating wellbeing and mental health through gardening


Vaithehy Shanmuganathan-Felton, Luke Felton, Celia Briseid and Betty Maitland.

West Cornwall gardening for wellbeing

On 10 May 2020, the strict social distancing rules aimed to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 within the community eased, including the reopening of garden centres. Approximately 87 per cent of UK households have access to a domestic garden [1], with gardening considered a popular pastime, with 40 per cent of the total UK population actively participating in gardening [2]. There is a substantial body of research demonstrating the positive benefits of gardening-based activities on wellbeing and mental health [3]. In this article, we will provide a brief overview of the evidence-based psychological health benefits of gardening across the lifespan, the mechanisms through which gardening promotes wellbeing and mental health, and finally some guidance on how to incorporate gardening activities to enhance wellbeing and mental health during the current pandemic (and beyond).

The benefits of gardening on wellbeing and mental health across the lifespan

Gardening encompasses a range of basic activities such as sowing, the planting of fruit, vegetables and flowers to more complex horticultural activities. We use the term ‘gardening’ to describe “an activity in which people grow, cultivate, and take care of plants (flowers and vegetables) for non-commercial use,” in domestic gardens, allotment and community gardens [3].

Engagement in gardening activities (either integrated in the school curriculum or community and home based) has shown to promote social relationships, family connection, emotional and mental wellbeing, moderate stress, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive and educational outcomes in children and adolescents [4-6]. Further personal well-being effects include increased enjoyment, sense of achievement, satisfaction and pride from nurturing the plants; feelings of mastery and empowerment for children who do not excel in the traditional academic setting; provide quiet time for reflection and increased confidence and self-esteem [6]. Participating in gardening activities appears to have a similar positive impact on adult wellbeing and mental health, with improvements in life satisfaction, vigour, psychological wellbeing, positive affect, quality of life [7-9] and reductions in stress, anger, fatigue, depression and anxiety symptoms reported [9-11]. Engagement in gardening has shown to have both immediate and long-term effects on mental health outcomes. Just gardening for several hours provides instantaneous reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, while gardening daily is associated with reduced stress and increased life satisfaction [3].

Gardening is one of the most preferred methods of physical activity in older adults [12]. Recent research conducted at the University of Roehampton examined the effect of a gardening programme involving cultivating food on promoting bone health, mental health and reducing falls in older adults [13]. While the programme did not improve physical health, it did improve participant’s subjective wellbeing, and self-efficacy in achieving their goals. Other studies have further shown gardening to reduce stress, promote feelings of mastery, accomplishment and competence, higher levels of self-efficacy, self-esteem, and psychological wellbeing [14-15]. Moreover, the social and physical health benefits of community gardening has shown to delay dementia symptoms [16].

Given the compelling evidence for gardening and improved mental (and physical) health, Horticultural Therapy was developed as a cost-effective alternative treatment for those with psychological and psychiatric issues. Horticultural Therapy, which involves sowing and planting with therapeutic goals and objectives for improving or recovering health, is effective in treating patients with a number of mental health conditions, including clinical depression, schizophrenia, and substance abuse [17-18]. Unsurprisingly, such positive effects of the Horticultural Therapy appears to be stronger enduring in patients and therapy users than with the general population, with improvement of patients’ mental health persisting three months following therapy [3].

Why does gardening improve wellbeing and mental health? 

There are a number of reasons for the positive effects of gardening on wellbeing and mental health. First, there is the strenuous physical exertion underpinning gardening activities. The benefits of physical activity and exercise for mental health are well known, with 30 minutes of daily exercise sufficient to improve and maintain wellbeing and mental health [19]. Planting, weeding, digging, raking, and mowing are considered physically intense and avid gardeners can easily exert the same amount of energy as running or going to the gym [20]. Gardening provides a more creative and enjoyable way to undertake physical exercise and meet the national exercise recommendations, which in return contribute to improving psychological health.

Gardening also allows individuals to interact with nature. In recent years, a growing number of studies led by researchers at Essex University, have demonstrated the benefits of ‘Green Exercise’ (GE; being physically active within a natural environment or greenspace), on wellbeing and mental health, with reductions in stress and depression, increases in self-esteem, mood and wellbeing reported in children and adolescents, adults, and vulnerable and disadvantaged populations [21]. Even small doses, such as five minutes of nature, is considered to improve self-esteem and mood [22]. Furthermore, GE can provide greater benefits than physical activity, exercise, or nature contact alone for wellbeing and mental health [21]. Gardening therefore offers an opportunity to not only interact with nature but also engaging in physical activity, therefore reaping all the health benefits of GE.

Community and therapeutic gardening projects offer a social context to the activity for social interaction, which can counteract feelings of loneliness and social isolation, especially for those with pre-existing learning difficulties and mental health [3]. It provides an opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, connect with people to develop a network or inner circle and draw support from like-minded people.

How to incorporate gardening into our lives during and beyond social isolation 

There is clear evidence that gardening is an enjoyable and effective activity for improving physical activity as well as wellbeing and mental health across the lifespan. Whilst we are adapting to the many changes to work and home-life, the opportunities to incorporate gardening presents itself as an activity that individuals can do on their own or with loved ones. Gardening activities can include a range of activities, which suit all needs and skill levels in enjoyable and meaningful ways. For example, growing tropical houseplants from kitchen scraps such as avocado seeds and pineapple tops, or create a sensory herb garden such as basil, parsley, mint and chives on the windowsill using empty tin cans. Sprouting seeds is also an ideal way to produce some salad sprouts especially in tiny spaces, whilst teaching children about the journey of food from field to fork. Children’s learning can be bought outdoors in easy and educational activities. For example, using flowers for solving maths equations, examining soil, roots and shoots for biology lessons and the web of life.

Other activities that children, adults and older adults can incorporate into their lifestyle include sowing, growing, weeding and watering vegetables, fruits, plants, shrubs and flowers. Those that new to gardening can start small, growing in little pots or tin cans. Salad greens such as lettuce, rocket and chard are easy to grow in small spaces, and many baby leaf greens are ready to harvest in only 4-5 weeks. It is important to note that gardens can be everywhere, by the front door, steps, balcony, a rooftop or community gardens and allotments and all count towards maintaining wellbeing and mental health. Gardening offers a place where trial and error is welcome, so imagination can flow freely about what to grow. The work also never ends with gardening, the care and maintenance will keep gardeners active for at least 10 months of the year. Engagement in such activities will allow adults working from home to take regular breaks and reduce sedentary behaviour; children studying remotely or being home-schooled to reflect on their learning and reduce the stress associated with learning; families to interact with each other in a meaningful way and reduce feelings of helplessness and loneliness in older adults beyond the current climate.

Dr Vaithehy Shanmuganathan-Felton is a Senior Lecturer in Mental health and Wellbeing in Sport and Exercise at University of Roehampton. 

Dr Luke Felton is a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology of Human Performance at University of Roehampton.

Celia Briseid is the Growhampton Project Manager at University of Roehampton. 

Betty Maitland is a Research Assistant at University of Roehampton.


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   Credit: The Psychologist