Creative Dundee

Blog: Creativity, Gardening and Wellbeing

Allotment mural by Mairi Isla

It’s well documented that creativity can help boost our personal sense of wellbeing, but you don’t have to draw, paint, play music, or write to feel its benefits. Its effects can be found everywhere. 

Take gardening for example; it’s inherently creative. The act of gardening is both practical and emotional. What you feel like planting—whether it be food or flowers—is just as much part of the decision making process as what’ll grow best, in what soil and at what time of year. A gardener’s process—of selecting seeds, preparing the ground, planting, tending and harvesting—follows the same developmental path that a jeweller, print maker or games designer might also take. We tend to our creative ideas and practices through learning, upskilling and trial and error, just like we would nurture a garden.

To explore the effect creativity of any kind can have on personal wellbeing, we got in touch with local artists, designers, makers and people involved in local community garden projects to tell us how their practices have benefitted them. Here’s what they told us:

I’ve learnt that if you’re a creative person who is lacking creativity in their life, it certainly makes the leaves and flowers look a little duller. In the times where I am not currently active as an artist, I find myself feeling less inspired about topics, daily routines and lacking a connection with local art organisations. But when I’m feeding my creativity, so many things seem brighter, happier, and I see opportunities not limitations and lists.

Samantha Sherriff, Fun-a-Day Dundee Coordinator

There’s a personal satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes with gardening. It stimulates your senses and gives you an immediate boost to morale, whether from growing seeds or post-weeding. It’s like the old saying – ‘the fruits of our labour taste all the sweeter’. Community Gardening brings a shared sense of responsibility, where everyone works together to achieve a common goal. You learn to communicate what you have done whilst learning and developing new relationships. 

Carol Pickthall, Ninewells Community Garden Wellbeing Coordinator

Since developing chronic pain in my drawing arm over the last year, I’ve realised just how important drawing is for my mental health. For me personally, making and drawing is truly my happy place. It allows me to process thoughts, feelings, memories and provide gifts to the important people in my life. Being a maker/creator is a tether between other makers and, even if our practices are entirely different, it brings us all together. I’m always trying to encourage the young people who attend workshops to explore and experiment with what they want to do. Most importantly I want them to share their work with their friends and encourage one another since friends are the ultimate support network you can have.

Cat Laird, illustrator, comic artist and workshop facilitator

I feel closer to nature and the slow-living of seasonal, local foods when I’m working in the garden. The work of my own hands directly planting and harvesting things that will nourish my body, also nourishes my mind and soul. I feel a better sense of connection to myself, and the way my ideal life would be, it gives me purpose to get outdoors when I’m depressed, calms my anxiety when I’m able to apply myself to physical labour, and keeps me active so my brain doesn’t race with too many thoughts.

Violet, Campy Growers Volunteer

Something that I’ve found (over the past couple of years particularly) is that working on creative projects has given me things to focus on that are a respite from the chaos of life and everything that’s going on in the world. Being part of a community of makers (e.g. Amps!) has given me a real sense of belonging and connection where I might not have had that otherwise. I think that connection is such a key part of shared growing spaces too, and in the work I did with CULTIVATE, I really got the sense that the community garden was bringing together a variety of people who might otherwise never have met. 

Zoë Swann, filmmaker, illustrator and musician

For me, the garden is the counselling room. We are nature embodied and having a conscious, loving relationship with nature is also about having that same relationship with ourselves. Nature teaches us to notice, listen to and follow the natural rhythms within us which mirror the seasons, the lunar cycle, when to seed and plant, when to let go and compost. Gardening is about being in relationship with the life, death, life cycle.

Caroline, councillor at Dundee Therapy Garden

I like pricking out seedlings into their own pot. I talk to them and tell them to grow strong. It is rewarding to see them weeks later being harvested and given to folk who will enjoy them. I like the quiet in the garden. Plants don’t make much noise.

Leslie, Campy Growers Volunteer

I would say for me and also based on watching the volunteers, you can very quickly see what an impact you are making with your work. Whether it’s shovelling dirt, digging holes, planting out or sowing seeds. Even if it’s hard or easy, it’s very satisfying to see what difference you have made to the world. I also personally find sowing seeds, watching them grow into plants, flowers and food feels like real magic. Hard to believe with a bit of care and attention what can come out of such a tiny seed.

Jek McAllister, artist and Fair Growing Green Garden Facilitator

When I’m drawing from observation, my mind is focussed. Drawing something static like a building helps me to understand how it was constructed, and when drawing a scene of motion (people, animals, vehicles), I learn about how things move – legs, arms, wheels etc. The more I observe, the more details I discover, and I find that thrilling. It’s like a reward for taking time to really look closely, a wee holiday for your eyes. The drawings are almost a by-product of this exercise, and I generally don’t look at them until later on. When I do open my sketchbook it’s often full of pleasant surprises – strange perspectives, wonky lines, and characters I’d forgotten about.

Laura Darling, illustrator and writer

By choosing plants intentionally that benefit wildlife, whether that is butterflies or bees or something else, I know I can make a positive difference in a world where biodiversity is threatened.

Helena, Ninewells Community Garden Facilitator

In Why We Make Things & Why It Matters, furniture maker Peter Korn writes: ‘Creative practice simply makes our lives richer in meaning and fulfilment than they might be otherwise. For some of us, creative practice may be among the few slender threads that bind our lives together at all.’ Taking the time to be immersed in an activity and find flow is to be at peace. Anyone can make something and everyone who does will invariably feel better for doing so.

David P Scott, multi-disciplinary artist 

Growing teaches you patience. It also shows you that life can be abundant and prolific. I find it fascinating. From one seed, a plant can produce many vegetables and then produce a large amount of seeds for the following year. It gives me hope and shows me that nature is fragile but resilient.

Nadège, Campy Growers Project Development Worker

I enjoy watching things grow, something existing where there wasn’t something before is a personal victory and seeing that every day keeps me grounded.

Fletcher, Fair Growing Green Garden Facilitator

In the same way that many creative practitioners feel calmer when they’re ‘in the zone’ of making, the garden offers similar benefits. It brings a sense of peace to those who use them, an opportunity to focus solely on the practical, to switch off from the stresses of the day. Working with others towards building something collectively—be it in the form of a vegetable patch or a comics workshop—brings the same sense of community to those involved. People feel like they’re part of something bigger. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in community gardening, there are plenty of local community gardens open to you. Use the Dundee Growing Map to find the closest one to you or visit Fair Growing Green—Dundee’s Unexpected Garden for Dandelion—and enjoy a cup of tea whilst the garden is in full bloom! If you’d like to get your hands grubby, they’re also currently looking for volunteers—pop along to find out more. You can also take a look at a round-up of some suggestions of projects around the city that can inspire you to get creative and try something new, too!

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