The good soil: Put down that iPad and pick up a spade instead

If you'd told me four years ago that I'd start my 30th year working as a part-time gardener, I would have laughed in your face.

In 2015 I was juggling a combination of freelance jobs in advertising and journalism, and enjoying all the parties that came along with it. It was fun, but I was permanently stressed and the only outlet I had for my anxiety was the pub or the gym.

Gardening is the perfect antidote to many mental health problems.

This high-speed lifestyle came to a sudden halt two years ago, when my journey into the glamorous world of gardening was catalysed by a misogynistic, micromanaging horror of a boss who pushed me into something not far from a mental breakdown.

Soon I couldn't sleep and was having daily panic attacks. My doctor prescribed medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. I prescribed a lifestyle change: it was time for me to spend more time outdoors. It was an effective combination of treatments, but it was the gardening that really made the difference.

Gardening is the perfect antidote to many mental health problems; it gets you outdoors, you're around people, you're getting fresh air and vitamin D, and you can see progress in the life of something else. In short, it connects you to something bigger.

Sadly, the amazing effect that gardening has on the mind is rarely discussed outside a green and "retirement activities" echo chamber. Sure, the horticultural world is full of brilliant people championing the physical and mental bonuses of gardening – take the wonderful BBC host Monty Don, for example – but the conversation simply hasn't made it into the mainstream.

I'm not suggesting we simply cast aside our prescription pills and take up weeding, but as doctors start to offer a more diverse range of treatments for people who slip from "OK" to "needing help", we will all benefit.

Countless studies have proven the health benefits of gardening. A pioneering study on chemotherapy patients discovered that soil contains a natural antidepressant that helped improve their quality of life. And just earlier this month the University of Sheffield found that rates of depression were lower in areas with clean green spaces, while just spending time in the great outdoors can improve your mental wellbeing.

So no, I won't apologise if you think I sound like a broken record on mental health and gardening. People who live in cities need this more than anyone, because they're four times more likely to experience mental health problems.

And let's not forget the environmental benefits of gardening, something that is often attributed to my generation's obsession with houseplants. Cleaning the air in our small, pollution-filled flats, while feeling like we can do something (anything!) to help the planet? It's a no-brainer. Particularly with the rise of "climate change anxiety".

It's also a pretty decent hobby. Free (unlike that gym membership), good for your fitness, and a nice, low-key way to meet people. From volunteering in community gardens to local parks and even cemeteries (yep, they need gardeners, too).

Plus, you can talk to people as much or as little as you'd like. This is something I personally find delightful; some days I want to be the centre of attention. Other days I'd rather garden in a remote corner as far away from everyone as possible.

This pace of life – and the peace that comes with it – are hard to find when you live in one of our metropolitan hubs. Often the only time we get to switch off is on a treadmill, plugged into an iPad watching Netflix. I know what I'd rather be doing.

It's often said that gardening is good for your mental health because it gets you outdoors and moving around. But I think it's about more than that.

Running your hands through soil, growing things, watching things fade: in a garden you experience life and death in all its glory. Every day, on the front row. If that doesn't give you perspective, nothing will.

Telegraph, London

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