The good news is that each day is getting longer and lighter, spring is on the horizon and there is new life to look forward to in our gardens. 

By Mark Lang 

Gardening can boost physical and mental health. Studies have shown how nurturing plants combats stress, anxiety and depression, as well as reducing blood pressure and muscle tension. Client gardeners with a wide range of disabilities who attend Thrive’s therapeutic horticulture programmes see improvements to their muscle strength, stamina, dexterity, balance and general fitness. 

As well as the feel-good factor of being outdoors in nature, growing your own produce can provide a tremendous sense of satisfaction and reward, as well as being nutritionally beneficial. Plus,
your own produce will beat supermarket offerings in terms of freshness and flavour, and if you grow organically, you can avoid the chemical nasties used in pesticides and insecticides. 

Now’s an ideal time to think about what to plant and for many people, vegetable growing will be on their minds. 

First thoughts 
Start small. Rather than growing dozens of crops, begin with a couple. If you’re new to gardening, keep things manageable by growing in pots or planting among an existing flower bed or border. 
     
When thinking about where to locate a small veg plot, south facing ones are ideal for optimum sunlight. Sheltering plants from the wind is important, so use hedges, fences and walls as barriers. 
     
Vegetables will need regular watering, especially on sweltering summer days, so think about where you will get your water from and how far you will have to carry it. 

Having the right tools makes any job easier and there are a wide range available to ensure all manner of gardening jobs are more accessible and straightforward. Thrive’s Carry on Gardening website offers useful guides. 

See: www.carryongardening.org.uk

Raised beds 
One way to make looking after your vegetable plants easier is to grow them in raised beds, which can be self-built or bought as easy to assemble kits made from wood, metal or recycled plastic.  
     
Beds 15 – 30cms deep will enable work to be done at a more comfortable level, reducing the need to bend and strain. The soil will warm up quicker, provide good drainage and make weeding less difficult. One-metre-wide beds offer a decent growing space and easy accessibility, with no need to step on the soil. 

What to grow 
For the gardener looking to keep things simple, some crops offer easier returns than others. Salad leaves, radish and Swiss chard are straightforward and don’t need acres of soil or attention to thrive. 
     
Don’t let lack of space put you off growing potatoes either. 
Homegrown early or‘new’ potatoes can be grown in bags on a patio and will offer fantastic flavour just a few months after planting. Compared
to what you buy at a supermarket, homegrown tomatoes are a taste
revelation but if your gardening time is limited, their need for regular pinching out, staking, feeding and watering may go against them.
     
Ultimately your choice of vegetables comes down to what you like eating, but don’t forget to enjoy the process of growing too; it has plenty to offer. 

About Thrive
Thrive is a national charity that promotes gardening for health and wellbeing. It runs therapeutic horticulture programmes at centres in Birmingham, London and near Reading, and an information service offering help and advice to make gardening easier: 

www.thrive.org.uk