Down to Earth: what are the wellbeing benefits of gardening?

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Explore the glory of gardening, and how it can help sow the seeds of wellness

Down to Earth: what are the wellbeing benefits of gardening?

It was May 2022. My first batch of parsnip seeds failed to germinate because it was too cold. Slugs had eaten the first leaves of the runner beans that I had planted two weeks before. The courgettes had suffered the same fate. My plans for the year were wrecked by a seemingly unsympathetic nature. Welcome to the world of gardening for absolute beginners! It’s good for you, honestly.

I was 35 when I got a garden. I possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of plants, seasons (plant in spring, harvest in autumn), and crop rotation, but was keen to learn more and to experiment, knowing that failure would occur. And indeed it did. Repeatedly.

Some of my thoughts were surreal. In my mind I could bargain with the ‘King of Slugs’, and provide him with a humble offering of a broccoli plant that would satiate his kind, allowing me to harvest the rest of my produce in relative peace. He betrayed my trust in what turned out to be a Faustian bargain, and he also allied himself with the cabbage butterflies to further wreak havoc on my small, defenceless, vegetable kingdom.

However, each disaster brought me back to the drawing board. Some issues such as yellowing (under- or over-watering, or a lack of nutrients) or infestation can be identified. But in a similar manner to much that will happen to you in life, sometimes there is no clear explanation for misfortune. Depending on your outlook, it is either cosmic chance, a Gaian malaise, a Darwinian struggle on the micro-scale, divine intervention, or just plain bad luck. And you have to resiliently accept this, and either adapt quickly, or try again next year while being as stoic as you can.

But remember, you are not alone in this struggle, and of course, each disaster will lead to a profusion of opinions about what you did wrong, and what to do again, and may lead to some conversation on non-Covid/cost of living/environment/Ukraine issues.

I have pleasantly chatted about the difference between ‘second earlies’ and ‘main crop’ potatoes. I have been provided with divergent ways to ripen green tomatoes. “Put them in a brown paper bag and leave them on a radiator,” one person said. “Move your tomato plants into the living room,” said another.

Colleagues who never discussed gardening before, and who I thought had no interest in the subject, have told me that broken egg shells or a spray bottle filled with cayenne pepper can deter slugs. Ever discussed parsnips with a man who owns beehives? I have. If someone asks what you did at the weekend, tell them you planted something. I would wager that they will take an interest.

The day I was asked by a friend when her dad should plant his potatoes, my heart could have burst with pride. “Are they first earlies, second earlies, or main crop?” I sagely enquired. There are also numerous Men’s Sheds (menssheds.org.uk) and local allotment groups on the internet that would be willing to help you.

Down to Earth: what are the wellbeing benefits of gardening?

Of course, trying to grow plants in itself is a valuable ecological lesson. You can see that, without direct intervention, many of our food crops are so vulnerable and require the near c

10 new things to try in October to benefit your wellbeing

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From connecting with nature to a film about a rock ‘n’ roll legend, and a podcast that’ll inspire you to make a change, try something new with our enriching suggestions

1. Page-turners

10 new things to try in October to benefit your wellbeing

You Need To Hear This: 365 Days Of Silly, Honest Advice You Need Right Now by Chronicle

It’s the pocket-sized agony aunt you never knew you needed, and this trusty book comes with 365 pieces of advice, affirmations, and jokes for your everyday conundrums. It’ll help to keep you grounded when anxiety strikes, or just provide you with a chuckle when you need it the most.

(Chronicle Books, £12.99)

2. Out and about

Make a pine cone bird feeder

There can be less food on the ground for birds to feed on during autumn, but, fortunately, September is the month that pine cones start to fall. Use this opportunity to connect with nature and make a pine cone bird feeder for your feathered friends. Head outdoors and select your pine cone, then simply spread peanut butter over the scales and dip or roll it in bird seed.

(Visit countryhillcottage.com for more inspiration)

10 new things to try in October to benefit your wellbeing

3. Act of kindness

Regift your Happiful magazine

Are you guilty of throwing away your magazines once you’ve finished reading them? If so, try passing on the kindness by dropping off a magazine to your nearest and dearest, or offer to donate it to a local salon or doctor’s surgery so they can make use of it in the waiting rooms. That way, your magazine can be enjoyed by others over and over again – and remember Happiful is recyclable!

4. Lend us your ears

‘The Climate Question’

How can oceans help us capture carbon? How does climate change affect our mental health? These are just a few of the questions discussed by BBC specialists in this informative podcast about climate change. If you’re worried about the planet, and have questions that you want answered, give this a listen.

(Available on all platforms)

5. Plugged-In

Tales of Eleanor

If you’re looking to break free from a heavy news cycle, meet the hedgehog who’s injecting Instagram with doses of positivity, one paw at a time. The wholesome, hand-drawn illustrations explore the daily struggles of a hedgehog, each with their own reminder to slow down and take a moment.

Dopamine dressing: discover the trend that is encouraging us to live life in colour

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It’s the technicoloured trend of 2022, but is there more to colourful fashion than meets the eye?

Dopamine dressing: discover the trend that is encouraging us to live life in colour

On the third Thursday of every month, the Old Spitalfields Market in Shoreditch, London, is infused with colour, pattern, and joy. And we’re not just talking about the treasures that can be found on the flea market stalls. Cue the regular gathering of vibrant spirits and creative souls – people who love, and live in, full, bold, bright, wonderful colours.

The Colour Walk, as it is today, has been led for the past five years by upcycling fashion designer Florent Bidois, and was inspired by the life and work of artist Sue Kreitzman, who could, be reliably found in her technicoloured glory each Thursday at the flea market.

“Sue is the constant inspiration behind the Colour Walk. To me, she is the face and I am the arms,” Florent explains. “In December 2016, I organised my first Colour Walk as we know it: a monthly gathering of creative people who love to dress up and love colour. “I have committed to organising it every month ever since, apart from a 16-month hiatus due to Covid. It’s about supporting the market, expressing ourselves, and just having fun.”

Dopamine dressing: discover the trend that is encouraging us to live life in colour

Here you will find a feast for the eyes, a multicoloured spread of prints, patterns, frills, and flare. Thrifted, crafted, savoured, and celebrated – below the kaleidoscopic surface, the Colour Walk is a safe space to express yourself as you truly are, and Florent shares that he’s often told about deep feelings of ‘belonging’ experienced by attendees. Here ‘Colour Walkers’ find their tribe, a supportive group of people who gather together to experiment with style and with colour.

While the Colour Walk is a concentrated culmination of self-expression, these days, more and more of us are beginning to add a bit of buzz into our everyday wardrobes – and if you’ve walked into any highstreet clothing store recently, you might have noticed the prevalence of a certain trend. Dubbed ‘dopamine dressing’, bright, bold colours, statement prints, colour blocking, and neon are all the rage in 2022, and retailers are chomping at the bit to deliver on our desire to infuse some joy into our lives. After all, following the hard times we’ve been through recently, it only makes sense.

But the idea of boosting our mood with colour and with fashion isn’t anything new. In 2012, a study from the University of Hertfordshire found that when participants wore clothes of symbolic value to them, their confidence increased. And, all the way back down the timeline, the emperor Charlemagne – born around AD740, near Liège in modern-day Belgium – wore red shoes at his coronation, as a symbol of his authority.

Colour has a huge impact on how we respond to the world around us (think marketing campaigns, and what the colours used are trying to get us to feel about their product), but they also do the same with how we relate to ourselves, and on what we tell others about the people we are. Momtaz Begum-Hossain is a colour theorist, author of Hello Rainbow: Finding Happiness in Colour, and also an attendee of the Colour Walk – who was, in her own words,

Women in sport: How can we tackle the negative ‘strong woman’ stereotype?

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Former England rugby player Kat Merchant shares her experience of ‘fit shaming’ and how she deals with it

Women in sport: How can we tackle the negative ‘strong woman’ stereotype?

As a former England rugby player, I have always been a ‘strong woman’. It was my job to be the strongest and fittest I could be to win, and that meant being physically muscular to be at peak performance every time I stepped onto the pitch.

Elite women in the sporting spotlight face a huge amount of pressure to perform and look a certain way, which also means our bodies often get judged harshly – particularly in my line of sport. Women rugby players have consistently had to deal with labels like ‘manly’ and ‘unfeminine’. Critics have placed more value in the way we look rather than the way we play, without realising the negative effect this has on our mental health and body confidence.

I’ve received a torrent of online abuse over the years, criticising my muscular appearance as a woman. Society still associates muscle and strength with masculinity – a harmful, outdated stereotype that stops young girls and women from getting into sports and having confidence in their own skin.

Women in sport: How can we tackle the negative ‘strong woman’ stereotype?
Kat Merchant

The first time I received online hate about my appearance was in response to a video of me doing a bicep curl I had uploaded to Instagram. As a personal trainer, it’s important in my line of work to demonstrate the exercise, and to show the right technique for others to follow. That’s the positive side of social media, it makes training skills accessible to a wide audience wanting to better their fitness. But someone decided to respond very negatively, sending a video of them retching at me. At first, seeing that reaction really knocked my confidence. I couldn’t understand why someone felt it necessary to be so hurtful – it even made me consider coming off of social media completely.

I discussed it with my partner, who suggested that I turn it around and show people strength in responding and not letting it affect me. Out of a negative experience, I had been given the opportunity to make female strength more standardised. I could use my platform to actually raise awareness about the abuse strong women get, and hopefully make a difference in a positive way.

It has taken time for me to get to a point where I am less affected mentally, because it is something that can chip away at your confidence and you do get sick of it. But for me, it was almost like doubling down on the hate. Now, if someone comments ‘you look like a man’ on any of my pictures, I respond with another picture where I look really muscular, just to show that not only are they wrong, but there are also consequences for somebody saying something insensitive that can negatively affect someone’s mental health.

Lots of people feel a certain sense of anonymity on social media, where they can

Could kink-shame be affecting your relationship?

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It’s official: Brits are having less sex. Is technology and stress really to blame, or is our lack of self-acceptance at the core of our problems?

Could kink-shame be affecting your relationship?

It’s not something we really talk about, but let’s be honest: sex is great, isn’t it? It’s good for your heart, acts as a stress buster, and keeps tension at bay – what’s not to love? Yet according to findings published in the British Medical Journal, nearly a third of us haven’t had sex in the past month. That’s… not so great.

We’re at a point in history where it feels like, for the most part, we’ve got more freedom to be open about what (and who) we love than ever before. Yet for some of us, getting over that first hurdle – accepting ourselves, and what we enjoy – feels like the hardest.

Despite kink-based novels and films making mainstream headlines for nearly a decade, many of us can still struggle with our desires. Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey sparked debate, and brought rarely-discussed sexual desires into the eye of mainstream commentary. Yet beneath the best-sellers and star-studded cast, and past mainstream publications focusing on ‘weird extreme’ fetishes, sits actual individuals facing a whole host of issues and worries.

Recognising you have sexual urges outside of what society considers ‘normal’ is just the first step. Sure, there may be a community, ready and waiting with open arms – but self-acceptance isn’t always that easy. Do you ‘come out’ as kinky, or keep things firmly behind closed doors? How do you balance sharing with oversharing? Do you risk shutting loved ones out of an entire part of your life by keeping your desires secret?

Sounds complicated. We asked members of the fetish community to share their thoughts on how they came to accept their inner desires.

Coming out as kinky

Will, a programmer approaching his mid-30s, shares his experiences with us as an ‘out and proud’ member of the fetish community. First realising his fetishes as a teen, Will spent years going through binge and purge cycles with his desires, before he felt ready to open up and speak out.

“I struggled with my attractions. Many in the community describe binge and purge cycles before they found acceptance. Because an inclination to kink is often considered perverse, I feel it can naturally make people hide this part of themselves.

“I remember throwing everything away, furiously deleting my internet history and bookmarks, only to start buying kinky items and browsing the same forums a few months later. It was only after many years of this that I decided to take the plunge and meet people.

“Speaking with people face-to-face, actually talking about and understanding their nonchalant attitudes to their kinks, allowed me to accept mine, and accept this part of myself. I struggled most with hiding parts of my life from close friends and family. I developed a real fear of what would happen if they found out.

“While I’ve not told them specific details, I’ve explained that I’m openly part of the community, that I’m happy and safe. Although many don’t truly understand what that means, I

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