How gardening during lockdown taught me to be a better person - and helped my patience to bloom

Carly Roberts is among the new generation of gardeners who has learned that growing is good for the soul

I've always been a prolific nail biter. It's my worst trait. And as bad as they look in real life, they couldn't look much worse covered in soil - something I'd only discover during the UK’s three national lockdowns.

Last year I bought my first house, which I knew I loved from the moment I saw the ornate mantlepiece and, shamefully, the outdoor mirror.

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I could imagine myself living in this house immediately.

It is a warm house, only in character - certainly not in temperature.

My friend asked me how I knew I wanted to live here and I told her that I had a feeling from the moment I walked in, it felt comfortable and familiar. It had a special aura, which new build homes, in my opinion, don't have.

The previous owner's taste, albeit questionable in areas, showed similar traits to what I like.

She had many house plants, the home was brightly coloured - but not obscene - and she was reading a Bill Bryson book, which was bookmarked on her bedside table.

The country's biggest celebration of gardening took place this year from Monday 26 April to Sunday, 2 May. (Thomas Warnack/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

But it was dirty and a lot more run-down than my boyfriend and I first thought. After getting our keys we noticed many unfortunate sightings which didn't crop up in the first viewing.

This was probably because it was too awkward to ask the homeowner to stop watching Netflix and shift the sofa forwards so we could gawp at the cracks behind her.

Mainly, there were muddy cat prints trailing up the walls from where the felines launched themselves upon the windowsills, and dark, damp stains soaked into decades-old carpets only now revealed after the owner’s belongings were packed up.

Aside from the cosmetic issues in the home, there was also a bamboo tree which had burst through the garden shed.

Carly planting out maincrops of seed potatoes in May at her family's allotment

The co-owner of the house was hiding in the shed for our two viewings - so that might explain how that went awry.

We got the keys in March 2020, and between us we started renovating the house, as best as we knew how, just two weeks before lockdown, when supplies would become sparse and our energy and concentration levels would diminish.

I hadn't yet realised I would come to fall in love with the garden.

The garden is a magnet to me

Inside Carly's greenhouse she is growing fruit, vegetables and flowers - including strawberries, aubergine and cosmos

I've had a bit of an unexpected love affair with my small patch of grass in the past 12 months. It came out of nowhere.

I have always had a slightly challenging attention span - instead of starting painting jobs at one end of the wall and working towards the next, I often start in the middle - just because I can, really.

So when I dropped the paintbrush after half an hour to head into the garden I didn't bat an eyelid. It was another job for me to start, which is typical of my nature, and then I would probably leave it before I'd finish it two months later.

But the garden had some sort of magnetic effect on me - it is a constant pull towards my centre of gravity.

I like being outside more than inside, more than I ever have done - and watching seeds germinating is probably one of the most rewarding hobbies.

Growing food not only proves you with the ability to tend to something for its lifespan, but it also nourishes you and the people you love - if you're a sharer, anyway.

The first thing I grew was carrots - and any gardener will tell you things don't always run smoothly.

I was daft enough to plant them out where the edge of the raised beds were covered in soil but unknown to me, perched on top of paving slabs.

Not only did the concrete slabs stunt their growth but they were more deformed than any vegetable I'd ever seen - all of my carrots had arms and legs.

Growing flowers and food makes me a better person

I'm firmly of the belief that looking after any lifeform makes you a better human being - and far less selfish.

It’s also helped with feelings of helplessness and mild anxiety in the midst of a pandemic.

As a born over-thinker, it’s the only form of down time when the cogs in my brain stop whirring.

Yes, I’ve often been teased for owning a greenhouse at 26 but nobody complains when I feed them.

I’ve also signed my family up for an overgrown allotment so we can safely spend time with each other outside, which unsurprisingly they haven’t thanked me for, yet...

‘Our brains are pleasantly distracted’

The Royal Horticulture Society this week revealed - as part of National Gardening Week - that those who get their hands dirty every day have wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than people who don’t garden at all, as part of their study with the university of Sheffield.RHS Wellbeing Fellow and lead author, Dr Lauriane Chalmin-Pui said: “This is the first time the ‘dose response’ to gardening has been tested and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the more frequently you garden – the greater the health benefits.“In fact gardening every day has the same positive impact on wellbeing than undertaking regular, vigorous exercise like cycling or running.“When gardening, our brains are pleasantly distracted by nature around us. This shifts our focus away from ourselves and our stresses, thereby restoring our minds and reducing negative feelings.”Respondents who gardened two-to-three times a week had a 4.1% higher wellbeing score and 2.4% lower stress levels compared to people who don’t garden at all.So, although I’ve come to accept my fingernails will never look at their best, I do know that gardening is genuinely good for my soul and I’ve become a much better person for it.