Mental Health Awareness Week – GATO

As Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off, our Director, David Shreeve, reflects on how the new look Gardening Against the Odds (GATO) project has been playing its part.


Even before the current lockdown, doctors were writing over 70 million prescriptions every year for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs in what experts were describing as a ‘mental health epidemic’. The ’odds’ in Gardening Against the Odds (GATO) may be mental, physical or environmental. Many of the stories we have discovered are about people who had reached the end of their tether until they discovered the therapeutic qualities of gardening.


Andrew Barnett

Andrew Barnett was the very first GATO awards winner.


The first winner of the Gardening Against The Odds trophy had been a headmaster until the demands of the job became too much. Sitting at home having taken early retirement, Andrew’s life changed when his wife decided that instead of a large house with no garden what he needed was a small house and a large garden. This was the challenge Andrew needed.



Andrew's transformed garden.

Andrew’s transformed garden.


In time, not only had the garden been transformed but once a year it was opened to raise money for a local charity. Andrew was one of the lucky ones with a family – and a garden – who helped him pull through. Many people live alone without a garden, but that is no barrier to sharing your home with plants which can provide companionship and something to care for. Now, especially since garden centres have reopened, we should nurture new plants in our lives to give comfort and solace.


Homemade herb garden.

Homemade herb garden.


The therapeutic power of gardening has always been recognised but it is still being discovered by many. There is always more to learn while you spend time with your plants and you can help us by taking part in some research we are doing with Dr Yasmin Milner. In this video, Yasmin shares her own experience of “Gardening Against the Odds”, using it as a moment of calm between her shifts as an intensive care doctor at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. We would welcome your involvement in our research about the links between gardening and wellbeing:



We hope Gardening Against The Odds is helping people to discover gardening’s ancient benefits – alleviating anxiety, improving mood, revitalising cognitive functions, as well as reducing blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Getting your hands dirty does not just provide a physical sense of relief it enables contact with bacteria that can enhance the immune system.  As Sue Stuart-Smith explains in her new book The Well Gardened Mind, research into one bacteria found in soil,  mycobacteria vaccae, may play a role in raising levels of the mood boosting neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. There are other benefits such as how following the life of a plant helps people cope with traumas and loss – sharing nature’s creativity is empowering and can lead to an increasing sense of self-esteem.


For Mental Health Week, Gardening Against The Odds will be showcasing a plant a day which is beneficial for our mental health and a book a day which gives us the opportunity to find out more about why gardening and gardens make us feel better, what plants to choose and how to make our planting, whether in a garden or on a windowsill, bring comfort and wellbeing to our minds and bodies.


Tin cans as flower pots idea from Francine Raymond.


As always we welcome your gardening against the odds tips, videos and ideas (we will share them on our social media platforms so they need to be brief and make sure to include a picture or two). Send any ideas you may have to or share them with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.





Happy Gardening!

David Shreeve.

Director, The Conservation Foundation