flower garden therapy ideas with Rachel Petheram
I love Rachel Petheram’s approach to flower growing and arranging. Her beautiful Catkin cutting garden in Lincolnshire is a source of nurture, well-being and simple joy. Creating with the flowers she grows is less about ‘arranging’ and more to do with allowing the connection with nature to restore and renew. Which of us couldn’t do with a large dose of that right now? I asked Rachel if she might like to share one or two of her expert tips and ideas for finding therapeutic benefits in nature with us. I hope you enjoy escaping to Rachel’s beautiful flower garden for a little while as much as I did… X
My flower garden
I started to grow cut flowers as a hobby when my husband and I bought our cottage in Lincolnshire and I grew some of the flowers for our wedding. My hobby turned into something greater and in 2006 I was lucky enough to be able to go part time in my lecturing job and set up my business, Catkin.
I started to run workshops – sharing what I had learnt about growing cut flowers and how to use materials from the flower garden to create natural, seasonal floral arrangements. This reinforced what I knew about myself already, that I loved teaching, whether it was an undergraduate student or someone learning to make a hand-tied bouquet. The process of nurturing and helping someone to achieve the best they can possibly achieve is a total privilege.
Flower garden therapy
Being with flowers and gardens wasn’t really a choice for me, it was a necessity. I suffered with severe anxiety and had a couple of awful periods where it seemed like nothing could make it go away. Very quickly I realised what all gardeners know: that being outside, connected with nature, working with my hands is absolutely vital for my mental wellbeing. The idea that spending time in nature can make you feel better is intuitive – we all know it and feel it.
Researchers are amassing a body of evidence, proving what we all know to be true: nature is good for us and has both long and short term mental and physical health benefits. This isn’t just an airy fairy feel good factor. The benefits are measurable and many researchers are coming to the conclusion that connection with nature is fundamental to our health and well-being.
I strongly believe that the garden had a profound effect on my well-being through restoration from stress and burn-out. In addition it became very clear to me during my workshops that working with flowers had a profound effect on people over and above the pure joy that creating luscious arrangements can bring. Being surrounded by flowers, being present in the moment, keeping our minds still and focussed is so good for us.
I realised that teaching, flowers and nature are intertwined for me and all of these elements inform and support the others. Subsequently, I trained as a reiki practitioner and I practice reiki through my flowers. I set up some floral retreat workshops which rather than focusing on ‘how to make an arrangement’ are more ‘let’s make an arrangement, focus on the moment, listen to what the flowers are telling you, restore and renew your soul’. It is amazingly powerful and a beautiful tool to find some mental space and peace.
Your flower choices have meaning
The individual flowers you choose have meaning – you are drawn to them for a reason. Finding the space to listen to what they are saying with the help of an intuitive and sensitive facilitator gives scope for creating beautiful personal transformation through connection with flowers and nature.
In the past few months I have taken this further and as a project with my husband have built a therapy garden and studio specifically to ensure that my visitors can be fully immersed in the garden and feel more connected to the surroundings. I can’t wait to welcome people to it when we are released from lockdown.
However, while we are still caught up in these strange times it is easy to become overwhelmed with the stress and worry of the situation we find ourselves in. It may be that we are spending a lot of time in our heads. As our normal routines are disrupted it is easy for our minds to become full of worry – lots of ‘what ifs’ and ‘I should’ and ‘I feel bad because…..’
Easing lockdown anxiety
There are many ways that we can overcome this – meditation, breathing properly and exercise, to name a few, and these are important to weave into your routine. Sometimes, though, the feeling of being overwhelmed means that we are overcome with lethargy and can’t find the energy to do even the most simple things.
This is not unusual – our sleep cycles may be disrupted, we may feel on high alert all the time. Adjusting to ‘a new normal’ is energy sapping. We then find that we don’t have the wherewithal to do the things that would make us feel better. So we continue to worry, which saps our energy further and so it’s a vicious cycle.
The healing powers of nature
Nature can really help us and don’t worry at all if you don’t have access to a garden or a park. Just being in contact with plants can have a beneficial effect. A 2008 study found that hospital patients who had flowers in their room felt less anxious. They were also more positive about their recovery and needed less post-operative care than patients without plants.
In 2005 a team of researchers explored the link between flowers and life satisfaction. The results show that flowers are a natural and beneficial moderator of moods. From an energetic perspective this makes total sense as flowers are living entities whose unique energy can be deeply healing.
Simple exercises to try
A simple exercise to tune in to the healing properties of flowers and to take you out of your head for a while would be to choose a flower – it can simply be a flower picked from a verge, or a flower bought in a supermarket, but make sure it is something that you are drawn to.
Take that flower and hold it in your hand. Or if it’s growing somewhere and you can’t pick it then just look at the flower where it is growing. If you have no access to flowers then just looking at a picture of one would also do.
Sit and really look at it. Look at it as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a flower. Discover what it actually looks like. Notice the shape of the petals, notice the texture – is it velvety, is it satiny? Really look at the colour – is it one colour, is it many colours? Does it have a fragrance? Does it remind you of anything, does it take you anywhere? When thoughts and emotions come up, notice them, and then gently redirect your attention to the flower in front of you.
Let the flower fill up the whole of your focus for a while. This simple practice will help to bring you out of your head and back into your body and hopefully bring you some calmness, clarity and focus so you can take further steps to enhance your wellbeing.
We all know the benefits of gardening: good exercise, having something to nurture and tend, the myriad benefits of soil. So if you have a garden then try and get into it even if it is just to sit wrapped up with a cup of tea. But, just being in contact with the natural world is helpful; nature has the power to heal, and I believe everyone can, through that, find a way to live their best life.
Finding simple joy in your flower garden – 5 easy ideas
1 Put up bird feeders.
Observing birds just from the window is a great way to still your mind and help to connect you with wild animals and the wider environment. Notice the different birds and consider looking up what they are if they’re not familiar to you. Notice, too, the way the birds interact with one another. It’s a little like people watching…
2 Look at a tree
Spending time around trees and really looking at and noticing them (like with the flower technique described earlier) reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. Numerous studies show that simply sitting looking at trees reduces blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic, effect.
3 Nurture a houseplant
It is incredible the powerful effect plants can have on our physical and mental health. Indoor house plants have been shown to improve our mood, reduce stress levels, increase worker productivity, reduce blood pressure, and reduce headache and fatigue. It doesn’t matter which plant you choose, but actively engaging with and taking responsibility for its care can be deeply beneficial.
4 Be mindful in the flower garden
Be mindful. I know when I am in the garden I am often storming around getting jobs done. I have to force myself to slow down and spend time noticing details in the garden. If my brain is all over the place I start with something easy like what is in flower and this then anchors my mind and enables me to start focussing in on details like patterns on stems, lichen on bark, insects on leaves and before I know it I am stock still utterly absorbed in and connected to the garden.
5 Collect natural materials
Forage for leaves, flowers, feathers, tree bark or seeds – use them to decorate your living space or in art projects. If you actively seek materials when you go outside, it keeps you focussed on your surroundings. But further, we are hard-wired to get a buzz when we find something we are foraging for.
Photo credits: Lucy Stendall Photography; Dasha Caffrey Photography; Annabel Smith Photography; Beau Fine Art Photography; Guy Petheram Garden Design
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