Gardens helped Becs back to better health

01/07/2016

This article appeared in The Sun Newspaper, Tuesday June 28, 2016.

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Gardening is believed to cut the risk of cancer, obesity and heart disease and may help those showing early signs of dementia, a new report says.

And it can also help treat mental health issues including stress and anxiety, the King's Fund think tank found.

Ex-banker Becs Baumber could not agree more. The 41-year-old from Peckham, South East London, spiralled into depression last year. Planting sweet peas and gardening got her back on track.

Becs says: "My father committed suicide when I was 18, so I've always been very aware of mental health issues, but didn't know how to articulate my feelings.

Then from my late 20s and throughout my 30s I worked in the soulless world of banking.

I hated it and during the latter half of 2014 and early 2015 I became quite severely depressed with serious anxiety issues. I went to my GP who tried to prescribe antidepressants but knowing they had done nothing for my dad, I had to find another way.

I took a massive leap of faith and gave up my job, then started volunteering for a small mental health charity. It was then, working with some members in the charity's garden, that I got my first glimpse of what gardening can do for your health.

You're outside in nature, getting your hands dirty, seeing things grow, engaging with earth and nature.

The things I loved more than any other were sweet peas - particularly the purples, deep reds and whites, which looked so pretty

And the smell is so distinctive. From this tangle of intertwined stems and tendrils, suddenly there springs this mesmerising avalanche of colour and scent. I also love my little veggie patch - there's something about putting your own broad beans, courgettes and berries on your kitchen table.

No food ever tasted finer than home-grown veg. I was seeing a counsellor at the time but I spent as much time as I could outside, and by spring last year I felt an incredible weight lifted from me when I saw the shoots of all those plants peeping out of the ground. The sense of purpose and progression is astounding and one I still can't quite believe.

Around the same time I came across a charity called Thrive that promote using gardening to bring about positive change in the lives of people suffering from physical and mental ill health.

I applied to go on one of its two-day courses. Coincidentally I saw a job advertised at Thrive for a manager position, I applied and got it.

So since last September I've been able to use the business management skills I learnt in banking for an amazing cause while working in the beautiful gardens of Battersea Park in South West London.

Now I can honestly say I couldn't be happier. I've seen what spending hours outside can do for the soul - not just to me but also to the hundreds who Thrive helps reconnect with the earth."

As told to Matthew Barbour.