People who love gardening know that being busy among plants can help their wellbeing.

But since the pandemic we seem increasingly to hear how everyone would benefit from gardening, if only they had access to a spot of earth, a plot, a community project, a balcony, a window box, some pots indoor.

Is this true? Among a few North Londoners, I have been flying a kite for the idea that, even when on offer, gardening is not for everyone.

Maria Papoui, who manages the volunteers for the delightful Olden Community Garden above a quiet railway cutting in N5, gave this question some thought. She discussed it with a volunteer who was a nurse. Their conclusion was that almost everyone (with the possible exception of some with serious mental illness) can enjoy being at their ease in a garden.

Ham & High: Volunteering for your local scheme can boost your wellbeingVolunteering for your local scheme can boost your wellbeing (Image: Ruth Pavey)

But no, not everyone takes to actual gardening, the labour, the dirty hands, the creepy crawlies, the general unpredictability of nature. Maria used to work with Thrive, the charity offering horticultural therapy in Battersea Park, so is accustomed to meeting new potential gardeners, often via social services or GPs.

Mostly, she says you can guess who will give the gardening experience a chance and who will just not come back. But not always, sometimes you can be surprised … and it’s delicate, encouraging people to keep going. Repetition of how much it would do them good might not be the best approach.

Ham & High: Sunnyside Community Gardens in Hazelville Road Holloway is another excellent local projectSunnyside Community Gardens in Hazelville Road Holloway is another excellent local project (Image: Ruth Pavey)

Nicki Smith and Julie Hudson are neighbours in N7, who took on the cultivation of a community garden alongside Annette Road Orchard, which was planted about ten years ago by the London Orchard Project during a flurry of neighbourly activity. That flurry subsided. Without Nicki and Julie, the partly gated but otherwise open space would probably have sunk back into its previous neglect.

But they set to, despite not knowing much about plants.

“You just learn,” says Nicki, “and yes, it does make you feel better, being outdoors and thinking about nothing else except what you’re doing”. They devote two or three hours to the garden once a week, bringing tools and water with them from the nearby house where they both have flats. Sometimes the trampling and littering that has happened meanwhile is very dispiriting, but they haven’t given up.


Summer pruning time for wisteria and apple or pear trees. With wisteria, cut back whippy growth to the lowest 5 or 6 buds near the main stems. With apples and pears, it’s the straight new stems that have shot up this year that need to come off.

Keep watering, specially everything in pots.

If climbers like Clematis montana, Akebia quinata or Virginia creeper are spreading over everything, be resolute, cut them back. All three are relentless.

Fewer gardens are open through the National Gardens Scheme, but one famous for making visitors feel better is open for the last time this season on July 30, 2-6.30pm at 5, St Regis Close, N10 2DE.