The power of planting
Nurturing nature through a permaculture project is helping people nurture themselves.
A dedicated band of volunteers are reaping the rewards from tending their long-established plot of crops at Brighton Permaculture Trust. Set in 485-hectare Stanmer Park in East Sussex, the project is cradled in the rolling hills of the South Downs.
Permaculture is all about sustainable living, as plot administrator Fran Pickering explains: ‘Our ethos is no-dig, no pesticides or herbicides. Permaculture aims to have low-maintenance designs, allowing time for meditation and contemplation. We propagate perennial food plants and grow organic veg, and there is something deeply connecting and satisfying about harvesting the fruits of your labours.’
Fellow team member Hannah Wilde agrees: ‘There is a sense of hope and joy created by nurturing life in spring and harvesting food in autumn – and a sense of confidence and achievement, too. Plus there are the physical benefits of being active, which – alongside being in the sun and with others – is so good for body and mind.’
The sense of connection between the volunteers – who are of a wide range of ages, and come from all backgrounds – also packs a punch in the wellbeing stakes. Sharing lunches made of their own produce, and time to chat, is all part of it. ‘Working as a group is incredibly bonding,’ Fran says. ‘Hard work shared is highly enjoyable and easier, and we get the chance to talk and learn from each other.’
Plus it’s loads of fun – the plot boasts not just plant beds and polytunnels, but a pizza oven and fire pit, too. ‘Once we all brought musical instruments with us – including spoons – and everybody joined in,’ smiles Fran. ‘I’m not sure how sweet we sounded, but much laughter was had, and no one was left out.’
Fran works at the plot year-round. ‘Each season is different and important, but I love late spring when the blossoms are out, the days are getting longer and there is the fresh lush green of new leaves. In fact, studies have shown that gardening and being in nature reduces depression, and for me being outside reduces my Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms. I have clearer lungs, too, and I always feel tired after working the land, and sleep better than usual.’
It is the act of nurturing that is so healing, Hannah believes. ‘For people who have experienced trauma or abuse, it is so powerful to nurture something else, to see new beginnings and watch growth,’ she says. ‘For children and young people to nurture rather than be nurtured, and to be trusted with another life, is hugely empowering and confidence-building.’
The plot volunteers feel just as positive. One, local GP Shivani Mishra, has even started recommending gardening and nature walks for mild depression. ‘Shivani is convinced that this is what is needed to help reconnect people to happier selves with less stress,’ says Fran.
Volunteer Caroline Barton, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, has found working on the plot truly life-changing: ‘My brain fog lifts when I come to the park, and when I am planting seeds I feel contentment, because I’m doing something real.’
Jane Yettram is a freelance journalist who has written on everything from gardens and education to health and older people’s issues.
A version of this article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.