The mindfulness of weeding – ecotherapy in practice

mindfulness and counselling outdoors totnes, paignton and newton abbot


I was down in the weeds this week at the Centre for Ecotherapy, clearing some space around fruit bushes which were getting strangled and hidden from the sun. I felt a bit torn as I plucked out the weeds. Creating space for the fruit bushes to thrive was important, but here were vibrant plants, some in flower, others in full growth and being pulled out or cut back. It felt bittersweet to be imposing choices on what a ‘good’ plant was.

In the act of weeding, there is a gentle call back to the earth, to make choices about what should thrive and what should be cut back. To be productive with the land, we need to do this, to make choices, to actively cultivate, prune, weed, water to harness what the land can offer us.

Of course I could be talking about my inner psychological garden here too. The experience of weeding created space for me to be reflective and mindful of what was going on for me this week. Away from tasks, chores, commitments of the routine, I was able to get down into the weeds of my own state of being. Immersing myself in the physical and choiceful weeding was refreshing in itself, but it brought to mind how one’s own emotional garden can become easily overgrown and covered in weeds.

Taking the space to notice what is growing and thriving, what’s lacking light and water in one’s emotional landscape is part of staying in good mental health. There’s an increasing body of research on the benefits of gardening and being outdoors. I like this quote from Your brain on nature : the science of nature’s influence on your health, happiness and vitality (Selhub and Logan) which dates back to 1897 in the Scientific American ‘There is no more healthful recreation for mind or body than gardening in all its branches.’ I’m sure that will speak to many people who get the chance to grow and tend something green whether a house plant or a garden.

Research has gone on to show that horticultural programmes can help people with improved communication, motivation, processing their grief, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, stress reduction and self esteem. Norwegian researchers showed that  depression improvement indicators were much stronger in those who were deeply fascinated with their gardening activity.

So back to my mindful weeding. Whatever your relationship to nature and gardening, why not take a moment to see how you feel when you’ve spent some time outdoors in the garden or the allotment or community space. How does your body respond? What’s your mood like? Chances are you will feel better for it. Maybe that’s all the evidence you need.

By Matt Fox – Counselling in Totnes, Paignton and Newton Abbott

Photo by Tony Alter licensed under creative commons