Why we all need space to grow

Allotment sign in Bath.

A message from the Council recently appeared in my neighbourhood: ‘Do not travel unnecessarily to tend your allotment.’ I’m not sure I understand?

I’m of the view that the act of tending, nurturing or simply spending time in a green haven must count as an essential activity. And that’s without even getting into the obvious benefits of exercise and food production – the fact that allotment tending is naturally a physical-distancing activity – or that April is an extremely busy growing time!

While some of us, me included, are fortunate enough to have a garden to retreat to during these difficult times, many don’t even have a balcony and are only permitted a fleeting amount of time outdoors.

This inequality is unsettling.

According to Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, research in Sweden has found that people with access to a garden suffer from significantly less stress. They also found a correlation between the size of private outdoor space and mental health – bigger gardens, less stress. The research reported that people living in flats without a balcony suffered most from anxiety. And that terms like ‘refuge’ and ‘nature’ were what the highly-stressed sought most.

Hardening seedlings off.

And it’s not just having access to private green space that’s good for your wellbeing, the act of growing is an investment of love. Anyone who has spent time nurturing seedlings, growing a garden or potting plants on a balcony will tell you it’s good for the soul. And that’s something that we all desperately need right now.

I’m under no illusion that everyone is a keen gardener. But I think Covid-19 has increased our appreciation of spending time outside, growing, being in nature and having a place to retreat. Our lives have changed pace and we’ve been able to enjoy spring emerging in slow motion, something we’re often too busy to notice.

An iris flower emerges; appreciating growth in slow motion.

So post-pandemic, will our industry see greater value in creating a green haven at home, a space to grow and relax?

I hope so. One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aims to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. I believe access to private outdoor space is fundamental to achieving this.

I’m creating a garden haven at my own home.

And with a warming climate maybe we’ll all be living outside more, seeing the boundaries between architecture and outside space dissolve? Our Head of Landscape Architecture, Isabelle Carter, has recently been announced as a judge for the British Homes Awards this year. It’s heartening to hear importance being placed on landscape design in the residential sector.

But with the Government’s Minimum Space Standards currently making no reference to outside space, I’d like to see other residential influencers, such as Homes England, take a lead.

Wild garlic carpeting a woodland in Bath right now.

In the meantime, whether we have a green haven – garden, balcony, allotment – or not, we shouldn’t waste the limited opportunity we have to get out into our local parks and green spaces to enjoy spring’s slow emergence. With appropriate and safe distancing, of course.

What do you think? Should everyone have private space to grow? Get in touch with Rob or join the conversation on Twitter #TalkingSpaces004