Mental health charity uses gardening to help people cope with increasingly shorter days

With darker days and temperamental weather looming, gardening offers people with mental health conditions an opportunity to keep active outside

Volunteers collect fallen apples following the aftermath of the autumn.

Newport mental health charity Growing Space is using horticulture as a way to keep volunteers with mental health conditions feeling positive by working outside during the winter months.

The year-round problem solving element of gardening is helpful for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects around 2 million people in the UK according to the NHS. Making the most of the natural light is essential self-care for people with SAD.

With days getting shorter, gardening is an effective way of keeping people active outdoors. 

Brian Hanlon, horticulture enthusiast and charity supervisor for Growing Space, said: “We like the idea that [gardening] changes with the seasons, so it never stays still.” 

Growing Space, formed in 1992, is based in Tredegar House, Newport, and helps manage and maintain areas of the site’s historic gardens. 

He said: “The scale of the gardening is quite large so we naturally bring groups of people together.” 

The charity’s gardening work happens all year round, closing only for the Christmas and New Year period, so there is always work that needs to be done. 

Horticulture also takes place within the garden’s polytunnels, so activities can be planned around the increasingly rainier weather.

Hanlon said: “There are always things that need to be tended to, plants that need to be cared for, vegetables that need to be grown, so there’s constant problem solving there.” 

“It’s all about forward thinking, and with mental health that’s crucial—most people can get stuck in the present or dwelling on the past 

“You’ve got to plan for when that vegetable is coming to harvest, you’ve got to get the soil ready for spring when you’re in the autumn.” Brian said. 

Horticulture supervisor Olivia Phillips said: “Autumn is the busiest time for gardening, there is a lot of planning to do.” 

Growing Space will continue its gardening work through the winter, tidying the gardens from the impact of autumn, maintaining shrubs before the weather gets cold, and preparing beds for the spring months.