With the theme for the 2020 National Allotment Week (10-16 August) being 'growing food for health and wellbeing', Lesley Upton describes how visiting her allotment benefits her mental health

On Monday 23 March, the Prime Minister announced that the UK was on lockdown, due to the Covid-19 coronavirus. I didn’t like the idea of being stuck at home. My friends and neighbours were worried about not being able to go shopping, but my main concern was what was going to happen to my allotment. 

It was March, and the potatoes had to go in. Then there were the squashes, courgettes, cabbages, Brussels sprouts… What was I going to do?

Obviously many people had more important concerns, particularly about their health. But to me, my allotment was import. In fact, the next day Michael Gove, Minister for the Cabinet Office, stated that visiting our allotments was permitted. 

I took on my allotment about 12 years ago and it is my sanctuary. If I can, I visit my plot a few times a week because I find it benefits my mental health. 

I have suffered from depression for almost 20 years, and while antidepressants have helped, working on my allotment has been much more beneficial. 

French beans

Success – a good crop of French beans.

When I’m on my plot I don’t think about anything other than what to do next on the allotment. One of the things I really love is getting my hands dirty, literally, as there’s something magical about having a connection with the earth. I am amazed that a tiny seed can become a huge vegetable and I truly believe that my plants listen to me talking to them! And it doesn’t matter whether my attempts at growing veg are a success or a failure – I can’t wait to visit the allotment again.

a sad-looking courgette

Failure – a sad-looking courgette.

Being out in the fresh air, even in cold weather, is invigorating, and being at one with nature is wonderful. Sometimes I sit and watch the butterflies, bees, blue tits and the red kites being mobbed by crows.

I’ve made lot of new friends at the allotment, and if I grow too much of one crop I offer the produce to my neighbours. Then, when they have too much of one thing, they return the favour – and the bartering system continues. 

As well as the mental health advantages, there are environmental benefits, too. By growing your own vegetables, and flowers, instead of buying them at the supermarket, you reduce your carbon footprint and the use of plastics. And if you grow your fruit and veg without using pesticides, it’s better for the environment – and you.

allotment

Growing your own veg can also save you money.

You can also save money if you grow expensive crops such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and asparagus. And they taste so much better!

People who ‘experience nature’, which includes gardening, for at least 120 minutes per week are more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing, a UK study suggests. Back in 1904, AG published an article by Mrs I.L. Richmond called ‘The Garden Cure’. In it, she explained how people would be much healthier, and happier, if they spent more time outdoors in the garden. How right she was – and it’s only taken us 116 years to listen to her.