Recently I (HS) got in touch again with Camilla Phelps (CP). I know her from ages ago, when she still worked as journalist in the music business. She turned her back to the music business and works now as freelance garden writer/journalist and gardener.
Next to her regular work, she works as volunteer for Mind Food. The idea behind it uses the five principles of wellbeing: ‘Connect, Take Notice, Learn, Given and Be Active’ to promote good mental health. People can refer themselves to the project where they first take part in a structured, but informal course, in small groups. This teaches the mindfulness principles through growing food and being in nature.
HS: Can you tell me more about Mind Food?
CP: People suffering from a range of common mental health issues (isolation, burn out, stress, depression etc) have the opportunity to connect with other people (if they want to); to notice the seasons changing, to learn a new skill, to give their time while being active. There are lots of other opportunities within Mind Food to continue the experience beyond the 6-week course and many people find a new passion in gardening and a reason to get up and get out and about.
HS: Why gardening?
CP: What is amazing to me is that there are now many studies that prove the benefits of gardening and being in nature for both our physical and mental health. It’s also okay to be more open about mental health now and there’s wider recognition that we all need to take care of our minds as much as our bodies to cope with the stresses and strains of modern life. In the UK, some doctors on the NHS can do what is called ‘social prescribing’ – instead of pills to treat depression, anxiety etc, you can go to a project like Mind Food.
HS: Can gardening help as a treatment for mental health problems?
CP: I think gardening and being in nature definitely helps mental health and wellbeing. It was something I always knew worked for me – everyone has their own way of destressing and for me I discovered gardening about 20 years ago. I used to joke that gardening was the new rock and roll and well, maybe now it is! There is nothing like planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow. I love getting my hands dirty and doing a rewarding physical activity. Gardening teaches you patience and that sometimes you just have to breathe and let things happen in their own time; and it is very much about being in the now.
HS: Can it help musicians too, to improve their mental health?
CP: I guess that touring is stressful and you still hear so many stories of musicians imploding after becoming successful. It’s probably hard to do any gardening on a tour bus (!) but the great thing about this Mindful/Gardening revolution is that there are many projects now all around the world, so maybe if there’s an interest, tour managers could find a local project to visit on days off… Or maybe just hike up a mountain?
HS: So is gardening the new rock ‘n’ roll?
CP: But really it’s about trying to find your own little safety valve. For me it’s gardening, for others it might be fishing or playing golf. But we all need to be aware that we have our vulnerabilities and we can help ourselves to manage our mental health.
Thank you for your great suggestions, Camilla!