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Why gardening provides the ultimate balm for grief

In honour of National Gardening Week, award-winning garden designer Katherine Holland shares how gardening helped her through the grief of losing her mum

Cheerful woman gardening in backyard
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
Updated: May 1, 2024
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Picture a gardener, and you’ll likely imagine a cheery soul, whistling while they work and greeting passersby with a smile and a doff of their slightly muddy cap. Obviously, all gardeners don't fit into this slightly silly stereotype, but there is truth in their upbeat reputation. 

According to forest bathing coach Jen Grange, contact with bacteria found in soil (micobacterium vaccae, if you're interested) creates a reaction in the body that produces serotonin (the happy hormone).

Thanks to this mood-boosting mud, it's no surprise that 59% of Brits believe gardening is an effective way to improve their mental health, according to stats from outdoor apparel brand Columbia.

kath gardening
Katherine found gardening helped her with her grief

New research by Sue Ryder shows that gardening can also be a saviour for people who are grieving, with 40% of those surveyed saying gardening "saved them from their grief," while 73% agreed that nature helps heal during bereavement.

Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder, says of the power of gardening: "Our research suggests gardening and being in nature can help provide comfort while navigating this difficult time. 

"Gardening can give those who have been bereaved an outlet for their emotions and seeing a garden grow can remind us that life continues even though someone has died. Being in nature offers ample space to reflect, away from the distractions of daily life, offering solace in the quiet beauty of your surroundings, allowing you to process your thoughts more effectively."

One person who’s felt the positive impact of gardening is garden designer Katherine Holland, who, following the loss of her mum, left her job working in the city in financial risk management in favour of a more horticultural lifestyle.

"I find it therapeutic being outside and gardening, it's a strong connection I have to my Mum, as she taught me a lot about gardening, and it is a way of cherishing that relationship.

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"I find that gardening absorbs me — I get so into what I’m doing that I switch off from everything else. I think it is quite a grounding activity. You have to work with nature/your soil type and you have to accept that there will be failures along with successes."

After seeing the positive impact gardening had on her own mental health, Katherine partnered with Sue Ryder to create the Sue Ryder Grief Kind Garden, which the public can visit at the upcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden aims to provide a sensory sanctuary for visitors to reflect and share their own experiences of grief.

young woman wearing a red jacket working on an allotment

"I want to encourage people to go outside to reflect and find a space in nature or make their own to be with their feelings in the beauty of nature. I found I needed this when I lost my mum," she says.

"I want the Grief Kind Garden to emulate the green space I needed when I was grieving and to give others a ‘green hug’. I hope the garden encourages people to find somewhere to sit within their grief and feel safe doing so, as well as let them know it’s ok to feel rubbish and let others know you’re not having a good day."

Find out more about the support Sue Ryder offers those grieving.

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