Ageing with attitude: Gardening is good for the body and the mind

Gardening is a refuge, relaxation, a creative endeavour, and good for the body as well as the mind, writes Margaret Jennings.

Ageing with attitude: Gardening is good for the body and the mind

WHEN Cork-based Alison Flack was a child she had a patch in her father’s garden where she grew seeds. Although now in her late 60s the experience of watching those seedlings sprout in her unheated glasshouse still holds the original magic.

“There’s something terribly satisfying in the depths of winter putting a packet of seeds into soil and watching things coming up; you’d wonder sometimes what is going to appear. It keeps me busy in the winter too,” she says.

With “the guts of an acre”, in the townland of Curraghbinny, where she and husband Roger have lived for the past 18 years, Alison now passes on plants to her three children, Jonathan, Caroline and Jennifer for their gardens locally, and her wisdom about nature, to their children.

“I have nine grandchildren — all under the age of eight — who come to help and they just love weeding and I try to teach them what’s a weed and what’s one of my nice flowers, but they’ll water anything.” says Alison. “They’re learning about bugs and about composting. I’m saying to them ‘oh no, you can’t throw away that’ and we will put the banana skins and potato peelings down at the compost and I show them the bugs that are there.”

In turn they teach Alison to stay calm: “I’ve had to learn patience with balls going into my best flowers,” she laughs. “You know — the usual things that go on with children, but it’s lovely to see them out in the garden instead of being in front of a screen. They go off exploring and we hide things in the garden for them to find.”

Gardening is a refuge for her also: “To me if everything gets down on top of you, you can go and pull weeds if nothing else, and talk to the plants. You never come in from the garden feeling down — well I don’t anyway. And if you knock the head off something by mistake and you’re apologising to the plant, the poor old plant produces another flower. They’re very forgiving — which we all should be I suppose.”

When her kids were small she would disappear to the garden but decades later, it holds that timeless constancy. “Seasons go around but there is no bad time in gardening; you slow down but can still do it. You can garden at any age level. I had a knee replacement and back surgery but you just learn to move on”.

Meanwhile, a campaign to give us all useful advice on how to make the best of our gardens is being run by GroMór, which is an initiative by Retail Excellence Garden Centres and growers across Ireland, in association with Bord Bia (and sponsored by Bord Na Mona and Westland Horticulture).

Its ambassador, award-winning designer Diarmuid Gavin, tells Feelgood there is an increasing appreciation of gardens as we age.

“People have been ‘nesting’ for a while and often have considered what styles of garden and plants they like and are emotionally invested in the success of their plots,” he says.

Garden designer Diarmuid Gavin at the launch of GroMór 2017
Garden designer Diarmuid Gavin at the launch of GroMór 2017

“They may have many years of loving roses, hating slugs and have embraced each annual start of the gardening season as a new change to get it right.”

As many retirees surely know, it’s the “perfect hobby” he points out.

“It’s close to home and can be extremely cheap, as it requires mainly the skills that they have developed over the years and they can do it at their own pace. Also it’s extremely rewarding to see borders bloom after a season of tending flowering plants, or having copious amounts of home grown fruit and veg to share at harvest time.”

As a 50-something himself, have the benefits changed? “For me they are the same as always — getting lost in the beauty of the garden, appreciating the wonder of all that grows and looking to the future through dreaming about what to do next.”

Gardening is good for the body, and the mind, he says. “It means that you walk, lift, stretch and exercise while digging, planting, wheeling a barrow, mowing lawns, weeding and watering. You’re also making, creating, nurturing, planning and dreaming, all positive endeavours which take you away from everyday issues with family or friends or around the house.”

Out in the garden exercise is easy, because you have a task in hand, he says, and time seems to disappear as you prepare, dig, plant, mow and harvest. “Before you know it, you have a full body workout done. If you do it properly and take some time or guidance to understand how your body works, and warm up with some simple exercise before undertaking gardening tasks, then you can avoid repetitive gym sessions by stretching, bending properly using your knees, building your core and achieving steady results for your health in the process.”

The GroMór 2017 campaign encourages people to visit their local garden centre for expert advice. Visit to get easy to follow guides and videos on how to grow flowers, plants, herbs, trees and vegetables.

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