Those of us well acquainted with the King’s years as the Prince of Wales know he is a committed environmentalist whose ideas were often ahead of his time.
Some commentators have questioned whether he will now refrain from speaking out on the subject as the monarch is meant to steer away from political issues, but others have argued that this isn’t politics, it’s the future of humanity.
It’s interesting to consider how far from the mainstream the King’s ideas once were.
The Observer Magazine recently recalled an edition of the same magazine from July 1965 which reported on how gardening had become a chemically-enhanced big business. Science was seen to have taken the place of old-fashioned expertise with a huge increase in the numbers of chemical fertilisers and products available to tackle pests. The report even suggested that frozen foods were making vegetable gardens redundant.
This was the background to the then Prince Charles making his first big speech in 1970, aged 22, when he talked about the dangers posed by pollution and indestructible plastic containers. Many of his speeches focused on topics that were not everyday concerns at the time and he had to put up with mockery from the media as a result.
For years the tabloid press mocked his interests as ‘fringe’ and ‘loony’ and in 1986 he was ridiculed for telling a magazine journalist that he talked to his plants. Issues that he spoke out about, such as organic farming, recycling, food production and waste management, are now considered essential to the future of the planet. We’re all ‘loonies’ now.
Damage to the soil
The King has called his work on the gardens and organic farm at Highgrove House, his Gloucestershire home, ‘one very small attempt to heal the appalling short-sighted damage done to the soil, the landscape and our souls’ by our contemporary way of life.
Highgrove has a reed bed sewer, extensive composting systems, biomass and pump-fed heating and partial solar-powered lighting. The farm was converted to organic practices more than 30 years ago and the King’s Aston Martin DB6, which is more than 50 years old, was converted to run on out-of-date English white wine and cheese whey.
At the COP26 climate summit in 2021 he urged world leaders to redouble their efforts to confront global warming saying, ‘Time has quite literally run out.’
He also said: ‘One of the things that motivated me more than anything else is that I didn’t want to be accused by my grandchildren or children of not doing the things that needed doing at the time.’
It’s to be hoped that King Charles III still carves out time for his gardening passion as the benefits are remarkable.
A life-improving hobby
Around 40 per cent of the UK population describe themselves as active in gardening – that means many more of us could reap the benefits of this life-improving hobby.
Many studies have proven that gardening is good for your mental and physical health, offering both immediate and long-term benefits.
Gardening has been shown to:
- reduce stress
- increase life satisfaction
- promote relationships in families and communities
Therapeutic effects have also been seen, alongside other treatments, in cases of depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia.
Scientists have found that soil contains a natural anti-depressant which stimulates the production of serotonin. Gardeners inhale the bacteria, mycobacterium vaccae, and have contact with it when touching soil. No wonder so many people call the garden their happy place.
The physical activity involved in planting, weeding, digging, raking and mowing means keen gardeners can expend the same amount of energy as running or going to the gym.
Even small doses such as five minutes of nature is considered to improve self-esteem and mood. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains.
In children and adolescents gardening has been shown to:
- improve educational performance
- create a sense of achievement and empowerment in children who struggle academically
- provide quiet time for reflection
- reduce stress and anger
In older people, gardening can help to:
- promote bone health
- reduce falls
- improve general wellbeing
- delay dementia symptoms
Those new to gardening can start small, growing in little pots or tin cans. Salad greens such as lettuce, rocket and chard can be grown in small spaces.
Take inspiration from people who have proven that gardens can be everywhere – by the front door, on steps, on a balcony and in community spaces. Horticulturalist Alys Fowler even grew plants on her apartment fire escape in New York and joined a gardening community which reused discarded objects found in the city’s streets.
People who don’t have a garden of their own can volunteer in community gardens. There are also schemes where people with the gardening space but no time or inclination can make their gardens available to those with the passion but no plot. Contact your local authority or check online for details.