When you lose someone, the grief will never go away completely — but there are healthy ways to cope. Some people find that gardening as they grieve, known as ‘grief gardening’, can gently relieve some of the emotional and physical symptoms after the loss of a loved one.
Doctors often prescribe outdoor activities to help patients overcome poor mental health. Numerous studies have found significant benefits from spending up to an hour a day in the garden, including decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, reducing blood pressure and calming nerves.
This is because gardening has many therapeutic benefits; it’s a sensory process of creating and healing, packed with colour, texture and fragrance, rain or shine, with fresh air to blow the cobwebs away. Gardens are both active to work and restful to sit in, helping us to relax and let go, taking a break away from our worries to breathe in nature and become temporarily carefree.
If you don’t have a garden you can still enjoy gardening by growing plants and flowers on a windowsill or by volunteering in a community garden. And you certainly don’t have to be greenfingered; gardening is for everyone.
The winter months in particular can be hard when you are grieving due to the shorter, darker days and the cold weather. If you start gardening in the autumn, you will see the results of a winter garden when you need it most, encouraging you to get outside and get moving, even on a winter’s day. Local wildlife will also be struggling through the winter months, so plan a wildlife garden in autumn. More on that below…
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn.
You never completely get over the loss of a loved one, but the most intense, debilitating feelings, will lessen over time as you learn how to cope. When you first lose a loved one, it is hard to contemplate the future — and you may not want to. Gardening provides an activity in which you can gently move forwards and experience the best of the world, as you plant seeds, watch things grow, work with the changing seasons, and see the life and death cycle within the natural world.
Gardening will improve your emotional wellbeing and your physical health — both of which will help you to positively work through your grief. You can choose to garden alone if you feel that you need to take a break from other people, or you can include friends and family in your gardening tasks if you need company or support.
|Emotional wellbeing||Gardening immerses you in the present moment, helping you to reduce shock, anger or sadness and connect to nature as you feel the earth between your fingers and the sun on your skin.|
|Social wellbeing||Making connections with others who share an interest in gardening can help to reduce social isolation, and lessen those feelings of grief and loneliness.|
|Physical wellbeing||From gentle activities like watering, to more intensive work-outs like digging and raking, you will get your body moving and the blood pumping, helping to reduce feelings of sadness or anger.|
Grief can never be rushed, it will ebb and flow as memories surface and events come and go. But gardening can help you get through the hardest times by tempering the most overwhelming feelings.
What are the benefits of gardening for mental health?
In some cases, grief can add to ongoing mental health issues or it can lead to them.
✔ Improve concentration
✔ Lower the stress hormone (cortisol)
✔ Increase quality of life
✔ Interrupt harmful ruminations (excessive, intrusive thoughts)
✔ Manage symptoms of depression and anxiety
✔ Lower BMI
Types of mental health problems that can be triggered by grief include:
The death of a loved one is considered to be one of the most stressful things that can happen to you. Gardening can decrease stress levels during any stressful period in your life and is particularly effective in helping during bereavement. One recent study indicates that people who garden every day have stress levels 4.2% lower than people who do not garden at all.
The NHS are increasingly prescribing time in nature to help treat symptoms of depression. Patients with depression are often referred to voluntary organisations for community work including gardening, where you can meet and socialise with others. Incredibly, soil has even been found to contain antidepressant properties — brain cells were activated by bacteria in the soil to produce serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone that stabilises your mood and promotes feelings of contentment.
The loss of a loved one can exacerbate existing anxiety disorders, or it can sometimes lead to them. Symptoms of anxiety can include excessive worrying, obsessive negative thought patterns (rumination), excessive worrying, and panic attacks.
Gardening provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness (being aware of the present moment to calm a panic attack — grounding you when you notice the colours and smells around you). And research has found that spending time outside in nature can counteract all these symptoms by decreasing neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain associated with rumination), and increasing emotion regulation.
There are some stunning cemeteries across the UK that are surprisingly uplifting places to visit — celebrating love and life, as well as for commemorating. Cemetery gardens can be places of reflection and solace. It can be comforting to be reminded that there are elements of life that we can’t control. Autumn days will see the trees in the cemetery gardens display their finest golden colours and the ivy entwined architecture will appear at its most atmospheric during the winter months. Take a look at these for inspiration:
With the stunning array of trees in these cemetery gardens, autumn is the perfect time to visit as the golden colours dapple against the stones in the sunlight. You can also admire the wonderful view of Glasgow Cathedral.
A 220 Acre park offers a peaceful setting with spectacular avenues of majestic trees, an ornamental lake and stream flowing through a leafy glade.
A site rich in horticulture and history, this 45-acre cemetery is a tranquil place to walk around and soak up the beauty of nature at any time of year, reminded of the circle of life.
This cemetery is well known for its graves celebrating many famous figures and graves which are ostentatious and fun to look at. Nature intertwines with the elaborate stones creating a beautiful garden to walk around — so striking you could be on a film set.
When you are grieving, you can become very quickly and easily overwhelmed. And if you haven’t had any experience gardening before, it can be intimidating. Remember to start small, with modest ideas — you don’t want to add to your stress — this is all about enjoyment.
Start with easy plants, such as a herb garden. You can grow herbs on a windowsill or in a greenhouse from January. It’s exciting to be able to sow some seeds during an otherwise gloomy month of the year. Some herbs which are straightforward to grow are:
If you would like to grow your own vegetables, also start with the easier choices, such as:
These vegetables can all be planted in the autumn, so your winter vegetable garden will be fully stocked for warming, nourishing and comforting soups and hotpots.
Once you have chosen your plants, you need to read up on them so that you know that they will thrive in the location you have. If you have the space, include a garden table and chairs so that you sit outside and admire your efforts when you have finished working.
There is no doubt that you are vulnerable when you are grieving. So make sure that you aren’t tempted to push yourself too hard physically and emotionally. If your back is aching, take that as a sign to stop. The last thing you want is an injury! Likewise, if you are feeling emotionally extra sensitive that day, choose a lighter task like watering and go back to the heavier work when you are feeling more resilient.
Encouraging birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife into your garden will help support your local environment as well as create a haven for you. Watching the wildlife in your garden is very therapeutic — the entertaining antics of birds and squirrels will distract you from your grief for a few minutes a day, allowing you to recharge. And it’s very rewarding when you begin to recognise the same birds and animals every day — and their families!
So, how can you attract wildlife to your garden?
As people’s gardens have become more manicured with artificial lawns and large patio areas, local wildlife are losing their habitat. To counteract this, use wildflower seed packs to scatter across an area of your garden to leave it as ‘wild’. Ideally, avoid mowing areas of grass and use hedges rather than fences so that wildlife such as hedgehogs, badgers, foxes and muntjac deer can move from garden to garden. See more information here on wildlife gardening.
Wildlife will be more attracted to your garden if there are trees to provide food and shelter. If you are lucky enough to have a fruit tree there will be queues of birds and animals awaiting fallen fruit from the tree! If your garden is small, think about planting a dog rose to provide nectar for insects (best planted in the autumn) or a dogwood tree, which bursts into colour in the colder months, to feed insects and smaller animals.
British wildlife is declining as animals lose their natural habitats, and this also means their natural food supplies are decreasing. A bird table provides a wonderful source of food as well as being a joy to watch. It is also a great routine to get into — setting the same time aside each day to fill up the bird feeders. Your local wildlife will appreciate the regular meals, especially through the winter months.
Losing a loved one leaves you with a painful void. But if you take up gardening, you can channel your grief into something which will help the environment and local wildlife, while providing comfort and respite for you.
Yes, we can put a small graveside surround called ‘Garden Kerbs’ around any headstone, providing the cemetery gives permission. We will be able to advise you on this and apply for a permit on your behalf.
Standard overall height for most memorials are 2ft 6″ or 3ft but we can customise our designs to whatever size or material you need, subject to availability and approval by the cemetery. The prices in our Value Memorial range are just for the sizes/materials shown but contact us for a quote if you need slightly different.
A marker is usually a wooden cross or stick with a name or grave number on it, which is placed at the site of a grave after burial. After about a year, when the ground has settled, a headstone or kerb set can be installed on the grave. These will be made from stone, are decorative and are a more permanent fixture to commemorate your loved one.
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Chalcraft Cemetery, Bognor Regis, Sussex.
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