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Gardening and Health

Gardening is good for our health, and I have for some time now advocated that it would be good for doctors to prescribe this essential therapeutic activity for those in search of a pathway to peace and tranquillity especially in these difficult economic times and sadly war in Europe and climate forced civil disasters.

Gardening can be a lifesaver in some cases for mental health and to provide access to gardening spaces for us all is vital. Research indeed shows depression, loneliness and other mental health issues can and have been addressed successfully for people of all ages when they are introduced to varying horticultural activities from a local allotment or small plot to standard garden plots and many have decided to grow indoor plants from the kitchen windowsill and some even hanging from the ceiling .Local garden centres are now stocking a fascinating selection mixture of sun loving .......and shadier preferring indoor varieties ,take a look round in these autumnal days.

Gardens and horticulture in general provided ESSENTIAL lockdown space (looking back ),even just a balcony to try and social distance but in fresher air and now in happier TIMES more relaxed environment however small the gardens whatever size. Some of us may be able to simply get out and walk along the street and enjoy walking past other gardens and even better to the nearest public space such as a playground or a local municipal park at least being able to maintain more freedom and enjoy trees shrubs and flowers, some wild flowers and not forgetting our wild birds and four legged friends such as hedgehogs and water voles if we are lucky to see them!!

Ref: Science for the Gardener Book - Chapter 13 The Good News Is

I have always regarded October as one of the busiest months of the gardening year because we need to prepare for Spring! Yes - the New Year and Spring are fast approaching as well as the Christmas festive season. Bring in tender Pelargoniums before October especially after a dry spell as tender perennial plants hate wet feet in winter!! A sunny spot in the house will keep them flowering.

Clear falling leaves into plastic sacks or wire containers and supported containers, it’s worth saving them for the best soil improver I know, leaf mould. Tidy ponds and cover from leaves and dig out silt and yellowing water lily leaves, reduce feeding fish. Leave any water weed cleared beside the pond to allow any wildlife to return.

With evidence of climatic change, it is as I mentioned earlier in the year vital now to prepare and repair very hardened dried-out soil as it begins to moisten and soften with the approach of Autumn. Add plenty of organic mulch with manure or compost and some grit. Refresh the vital nitrogen cycle this way begin by spreading and digging in N P K WITH organic blood, fish and bone preferably in damp/wet soil. This will boost all the vital main nutrients, especially Phosphorus for strengthening cell structure and roots and K Potassium and Magnesium for next year flowering. Phosphorus P is not a very soluble product so will need a few months over winter to take effect but it’s worth the effort in giving plants added strength. Check if any of your plants have unusually bending stems, a sure sign of weakness and possibly a lack of phosphorus. This deficiency usually occurs with sandy, stony, generally poor and neglected rough soil devoid of any clay-based nutrients and very important organic matter soil such as compost and manure for green growth.

Ref: Science for the Gardener book - Chapter 7 Digging for Victory

It’s a very good time to plant new trees, hardy shrubs and hedges, especially hardy climbers, allowing them to have that valuable over wintering cold period that is known as vernalisation.

We have to plan ahead for Spring so do look for those attractive cost-effective bulb offers including bulging bags of Narcissus now on offer at Garden Centres. Smaller ’Tête à Têtes’ Narcissus are useful for easy planting for smaller gardens and in shallow soil beds and look positively superb in containers with plenty of very well drained gritty soil.

Pruning and tidying is best done in this Autumnal period, but can I suggest leaving attractive seed heads such as those found on Miscanthus Grass, Sunflower heads, Teasels, Coneflowers, Rudbeckia and Sedums for the birds searching for food in the bitter cold of Winter. A necessary caution before you start pruning is to check flower buds on Spring flowering shrubs such as Forsythia, Camellia and Magnolia that these are not accidentally removed.

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year for enjoying tree leaf colours so take a few strolls along your local paths and if you can, visit one of the local region large private gardens such as those at Forde, Abbotsbury (Dorset), National Trust Tintinhull and Knightshayes and so many others we are fortunate to have in the UK .

Any science-based queries please feel free to contact me on

Science for the Gardener was commissioned to do two broadcasts for the “Gardening for disabled and unsighted gardeners” Do please e mail me should you feel they could be of assistance and they can be e- mailed as an Audio File 0R simply click on to listen in on

Enjoy Autumn yes with some difficult weather days ahead and you’re gardening in one of the busiest months ahead with leaf clearance into storage bags in Nov for the most valuable soil improver compost for next year's leaf mould.

Do add solid slow-release fertilisers in winter ready for Spring Growth to soil to compensate for leaching of your soil nutrients in heavy winter rains!!

Tony Arnold MCIHort

Author Science for the Gardener Book

Secondary Science Resource for RHS Schools Gardening


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