A path to well-being

_DSF1823©Geoff Wilkinson

Psychologist Niamh Moriarty invites you to experience the positive physical and mental health impacts of South Woodford’s community gardening initiatives. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

How many of us have felt uplifted at the sight of that first daffodil or snowdrop peeking through after a long, dark, dreary winter? Perhaps it signifies hope, that life and beauty can thrive despite harshness? Or how about the roses that bloom heralding the arrival of summer?

For some, these blooms awaken something almost innate; an internal drive to start planting, nurturing, watching and awaiting the eventual reward of a healthy leaf or a beautiful bloom. It turns out though, that gardening may be nurturing us in return!

Of course, digging and weeding are beneficial in terms of exercise; it’s easy to meet the guidelines of 20 minutes of daily activity when there is grass to mow, shrubs to trim and watering to be done! But are you aware research proves gardening has a positive impact on our mental health also? Researchers from Essex University use the term ‘green exercise’. Recent studies have demonstrated that green exercise benefits mental wellness with reductions in stress and depression alongside increases in mood and self-esteem. It appears even small doses of a few minutes can have an immediate impact, while regular gardening has been found to reduce stress and increase life satisfaction, including feelings of mastery and accomplishment. In fact, horticultural therapy is now offered within many NHS trusts.

When it comes to community gardening, there are benefits for the gardeners and the non-gardeners alike. The Royal Horticultural Society says community gardening leads to an increased sense of ownership of local spaces, a healthier environment, lower crime rates and reduced antisocial behaviour, and a boost to the local economy. Gardening in a group encourages people to develop relationships, reduces isolation and provides social opportunities to the large numbers of people now working from home. 

So many of us enjoy looking at the plants and flowers around us in South Woodford throughout the seasons. But did you ever wonder how these flower beds came about? We are an area rich with community gardening initiatives.

South Woodford Gardeners
These trailblazing gardeners commenced their work in 2014. Having transformed the flower beds along George Lane, they moved onto the six flower beds on the A406 bridge opposite Waitrose. Expanding further, they adopted the bed outside Regency Court, and this past year, they have taken over the pavement railing flower boxes around the area.

The gardeners meet one weekday morning a week. Join the South Woodford Gardeners Facebook group here

Footpath No. 60 Community Garden
A new community garden along the length of public footpath number 60, linking Woodford High Road to the Laings Estate. The flower beds along this popular shortcut next to Priory Close had become barren stretches, making this alleyway appear unsafe and uninviting. Spurred on by increased use during lockdown walks, this new community group started clearing and planting. The group is keen to promote the use of drought-resistant, native plants that will support wildlife.

Meeting for an hour most weekend mornings this new group welcomes new volunteers, as well as family involvement in creating bug hotels, painted stones, bunting and other creative ideas. Email: footpathno60garden@gmail.com 

South Woodford Society
The South Woodford Society has adopted three grow zones: Eastwood Green (at the corner of Eastwood Green and George Lane roundabout), the Community Orchard (on the corner of Primrose Road and Mulberry Way) and Bell Green (outside South Woodford station). 

The South Woodford Society have been running twilight weeding sessions during the longer summer evenings. Email e18society@gmail.com 

Get involved in community gardening

  • Donate your time: one hour a week makes a huge difference.
  • Share spare plants from your garden.
  • If you live near a community garden, take a walk in the evening to water it, or empty your water bottle as you pass by. You can also offer to refill watering cans during gardening sessions. 
  • Funding: most of these community gardening projects have been supported by crowdfunding, funding from the council or other initiatives. If your skill set lies in this area rather than as a gardener, do get in touch.