We all have different strategies for caring for our mental health. Some of us dance. Some of us bake banana bread (shoutout to #2020). And some of us—like Chloe Thomson, horticulturist and digital content creator—look for respite in the garden.
Thomson lives in the “leafy and hilly outer suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.” Growing up, she loved the outdoors and spent countless hours climbing trees. “I really started my own gardening journey when I left home at 22 and moved into a share house,” says Thomspon. “I was that crazy housemate with planters full of kitchen herbs and tomatoes planted between the standard roses in the backyard!” Thomson’s love of flora and fauna inspired her to pursue agricultural science and horticulture at University—and just like that, an outdoor career was born.
Beyond being her place of her work, Thomson’s garden is also her mental health sanctuary. Or, as she calls it, her “happy place.” “If I'm being particularly grumpy my husband has been known to say ‘I'll take the kids for the day, so you can have the time to just get out and garden’,” Thomson tells Beekeeper’s Naturals.
Below, we talk to Thomson about how spending time in her garden became her go-to mental wellness practice.
1. Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm a horticulturist, presenter, digital content creator, and writer. I'm a mum of 2 boys, and we live with my husband in the leafy and hilly outer suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.
2. Why did you start gardening originally?
I was an outdoor kid growing up, living on a small farm. I remember spending many hours up a tree or building cubbies with logs and sticks. I really started my own gardening journey when I left home at 22 and moved into a share house. I was that crazy housemate with planters full of kitchen herbs and tomatoes planted between the standard roses in the backyard!
Studying Agricultural Science at Uni and then Horticulture - I realized I wanted the chance to have a career working with plants and people.
*Note to Americans: A "cubby" is a small, wooden house in the garden where children play.
3. If you had to choose, what's your favorite type of plant?
This is tough! I LOVE LOVE yellow flowers of any kind. They just make me smile and they scream happiness. So I do find myself planting a lot of yellow flowers! The Australian natives Chrysocephalum apiculatum or Xerochrysum viscosum are some of my favorites, but I also can't go past dahlias in all colors. The brighter, the better.
Succulents are another favorite of mine: so many shapes, colors, and textures. They look incredible year-round with minimal effort.
4. How does gardening help your mental health?
My garden is my happy place! If I'm having a bad day or feeling down, I find spending time out in my garden grounds me, and makes me feel happier and more energized. If I'm particularly grumpy, my husband has been known to say, "I'll take the kids for the day, so you can have the time to just get out and garden."
I love the sense of achievement a garden gives me. But at the same time—there is also a great sense of anticipation in watching things grow—will they work, will they flower, will the possums eat them! Growing some of my own food is also something that brings me great comfort. I never buy those sad herbs from the supermarket in plastic; I grow all my own kitchen herbs and I try and eat seasonally from my own garden. Again that sense of achievement and overall happiness watch something grow from a seed or seedling into something that I can feed my family is priceless.
I'm also learning to just BE in my garden, to take my morning cup of coffee out there and just sit and relax, listen to the birds, and watch the grasses move in the wind. A great addition to our backyard has been a restored clawfoot castiron bath. It is just a magical spot to sit in a warm bath and watch as the sun sets behind the big gum trees in and around our garden.
5. What gardening project are you working on now, if any?
Now we're in the stages of planning an upcycled or recycled glasshouse using reclaimed windows. It will replace a kids cubby they no longer use. And it will mean that my seeds can have a home rather than taking over our living room!
6. What's your advice to someone who wants to start gardening for mental health?
Aim to grow something that you know will bring you joy. Choose a flower in your favorite color or grow your favorite vegetable or herb. Start it from seed if you can, or get hold of a seedling. If you are only new to gardening, start with a small vegetable bed or even a large to grow herbs. Enjoy the process of gardening. Watch things develop and grow over time.
Remember: It won't happen overnight! For example, I get a real thrill out of watching this rather shriveled, funny-looking dahlia tuber go into the ground and grow into a huge dahlia with flowers that are insanely bright and bold.
Don't be put off by "failures." I love the quote that there are no gardening failures, only experiments. As gardeners, we are always learning. Even as someone who has been gardening for a long time now, I always learn something new when I buy a new plant, chat with someone about gardening, or read a gardening book.