Health & Happiness in the Garden

Therapeutic Gardening with Sophie Lacey Good Thymes Gardening

Interacting with nature has been considered a mental health intervention for quite some time, even being able to see nature from a hospital window has been recognised to improve mood, physical response to medication and recovery time in patients. In one particular study it even improved patient’s attitudes towards nurses! Yet, we are such busy bees we tend not to notice nature around us in our daily hustle and bustle.

You do not need a large garden of mature trees or need to venture to your local park every day to enjoy the benefits of nature. Whilst I do encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity for getting outdoors each day, sometimes it is not always possible but engaging with nature and using it as a tool to keep on top of your mental health is actually very simple.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Now you don’t need to sit cross-legged with your eyes closed, surrounded by a mandala of cut flowers chanting ‘OMM’ to do it…although that does sound charming. Mindfulness is a method of bringing yourself completely to the present, focusing on how you feel in the moment physically, your surroundings and acknowledging when your mind wanders off (which it will). Gardening teaches you to slow down and teaches patience, but increasing your awareness, whilst you’re gardening is where mindful gardening comes into play. At first, it’s easier to focus on something specific like your breath, but once you’re feeling more com-fortable with the technique you can try actively gardening whilst being mindful.

To integrate nature into your mindfulness, take a flower or situate yourself near a plant (indoors or outdoors).

Focus your attention on how the plant looks, feels or smells. Turn it over in your hand and study it. This is your focal point.

Each time you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the flower/plant. – Don’t kick yourself when your mind wanders, it’s completely normal and takes practice.

If outside, consider your surroundings: sounds and smells. Soak it in. If inside, focus on sounds you can hear both inside and outside. Don’t change anything in the environment just acknowledge it.

5 minutes of this practice is all you need, as often as you want. Try different environments with different focal points. When you get the hang of it you can try increasing the amount of time you’re practicing for.

Before you know it, you can start practicing mindful weeding, planting and deadheading.

Good Thymes Gardening is supporting our community in enhancing wellbeing through gardening, offering services such as companionship gard-ening, growing and wellbeing support, mindful gardening and social prescription services.

Seed sowing is a great mindful gardening activity to practise this month, as soon as Christmas celebrations die down I count down the days until I can sow my first seeds of the year – chillies!

GROW: Chilli Plants

SOW: Any chilli variety makes a great perennial indoor plant on a windowsill if you don’t have a greenhouse or garden. Seeds can be sown with ease in February (the earlier the better if you’re growing hot varieties) indoors, be sure to provide a consistent warm room temperature and enough light. Carefully transplant to larger pots as they mature.

HARVEST: As the plants produce buds and flower, once pollinated the flowers will drop and the start of your chilli pepper is left behind.

STORE: Freeze chillies to use throughout the year or if you have more than you need as you harvest. Mr Good Thymes Gardening will grate the frozen chillies and add to dishes as he needs.

 TIP: Try using a delicate brush to self-pollinate from flower to flower to increase the amount of chillies you can grow #chillitickling.

COOK: Mr. Good Thymes Gardening’s Paneer Jalfrezi

  • Two handfuls of tomatoes (chop up any larger ones, can keep smaller ones whole)
  • 3 pointed sweet peppers (sliced)
  • 2 medium brown onions (sliced)
  • 2 homegrown chillies (sliced)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or minced)
  • 1 tbsp Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp tumeric powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (if you have seeds you can toast then grind for even better flavour)
  • 1 handful chopped coriander
  • 300g paneer cheese
  • Greek yoghurt (optional)

METHOD: Heat some cooking oil in a pan and simmer the onions on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or until light brown in colour.

Add the cumin, a pinch of salt and simmer for a minute, add the tomatoes (leave a few smaller whole ones back to put in later).

Simmer for 5 minutes and add the peppers, chillies, garlic and the curry powder, tumeric and garam masala. Simmer for 2 minutes and add enough water to just about cover the con-tents of the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes with a lid on.

Meanwhile, cube the paneer and fry with a few tsp cooking oil until they start to get crispy, add bit of coriander to the pan and mix for 30 seconds before removing from the heat.

The water should have reduced to a thick sauce after 10 minutes, but you can leave a little longer, or add a bit of water depending on how thick you want the sauce. If you kept any smaller tomatoes back put them in now – they will end up softened and sweet at the end.

Now is the time to taste and season with salt and pepper and add some more curry powder if you want some extra heat.

Simmer for another 3-5 minutes, then turn off the heat, throw in the remaining coriander and then stir in the paneer.

Serve with basmati rice and some yoghurt.



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