Gardening Is Good For You - December

Plant away the winter blues!

It’s all change in the garden this month as autumn colour and falling foliage transforms trees, shrubs and borders. It’s a wonderful sight that brings the gardening year to a spectacular end. Autumn is a busy season, with plenty to tempt us outside to keep us active, even if early frosts force us to dress up warm.

There’s summer bedding to clear away, border perennials to cut down, veg plots to clear, and leaves to collect and convert into valuable leafmould to use for mulching and feeding the soil. Pots and baskets can be planted with evergreens and hardy bedding like pansies, and a host of spring flowering bulbs including tulips and narcissus planted for colourful early displays.

Gardening throughout the year brings with it many benefits, like keeping us active in the fresh air, while direct contact with soil has been shown to be valuable to our mental health and wellbeing. Research has demonstrated the value of ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ in the alleviation of health problems, relieving stress, and improving our mood and restful sleep.

Digging compost and manure into your soil provides exercise while at the same time improving soil structure, fertility and composition. In addition it’s been found that working with soil can also boost our immune system, probably by exposing us to beneficial bacteria. Studies have shown that children exposed to a variety of microbes have decreased incidence of allergies and asthma. One reason could be that in our increasingly clean and sterile homes and surroundings that children aren’t exposed to the ‘bugs’ that help them develop strong immune systems. Getting dirty in the garden could be just what everyone needs.

As the saying goes ‘We are what we eat’, and there’s an increasing body of evidence that shows that by eating organically grown produce we’ll be ingesting higher levels of beneficial ingredients like vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. What better reason can there be to start growing your own, and enjoy the benefits of feeding your family with fruit and crops you’ve raised yourself … and probably save money too!

Research around the world continues to highlight the many benefits of gardening, and although the benefits of direct contact with soil and friendly bacteria aren’t yet fully understood they indicate what many people believe … gardening is great therapy!


Some friendly bacteria found in the soil may act on our brain like antidepressants. Research on mice by University College London and Bristol University found that a common soil bacteria acts on brain cells to stimulate production of the ‘happy chemical’ serotonin, altering mood in a similar way to antidepressants.

Other studies have shown that patients treated with the friendly bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae experienced less pain and increased vitality and cognitive function. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, and although the role of this chemical in our body is a complex one perhaps breathing in or ingesting these friendly bacteria bring benefits to our health and wellbeing.


Autumn is a good time for planning and planting, establishing plants into warm soil before the onset of winter. The soil in new borders should be prepared, digging in generous quantities of compost and bulky organic material to improve its structure and drainage, getting conditions right for new plants.

Always choose plants suited to the soil, site and conditions you can provide. And that’s where the experts at your local nurseries and garden centres can help out, so visit them now to pick their brains for the best advice and suggestions.

Large patio pots, tubs, troughs and baskets can also be planted with a selection of evergreen, flowering and berrying plants to provide colour and interest over the cold winter months ahead, such as skimmia, gaultheria, ivy, viburnum, euonymus, plus flowering bedding like pansies and violas.

Many bare-rooted plants are only available from the autumn offering great value for hedging and planting projects. Whether it’s new fruit and trees, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials, or a bed full of fragrant roses, an impressive range of plants are available now ready for immediate planting.

Some seasonal favourites include:

* Skimmia varieties eg Skimmia ‘Magic Marlot’
* Gaultheria mucronata
* Cyclamen hederifolium AGM
* Mahonia ‘Charity’ and ‘Winter Sun’ AGM
* Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and ‘Charles Lamont’ AGM
* Autumn Flowering Camellia eg C. sasanqua ‘Narumigata’ AGM
* Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ AGM
* Dogwood varieties (Cornus)
* Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ AGM
* Heathers


Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Way to Antidepressants:

Mycobacterium vaccae


Soil bacteria can boost immune system

What is serotonin?

THE GUARDIAN – April 2016
Gardening is good for you, by James Wong

NOVEMBER IMAGE CREDIT - Planting a winter pot - skimmia heather gaultheria © Adam Pasco Media