Urban permaculture and mental health during and after the pandemic

One can feel that Heaven is here on Earth, especially when we look at and consciously connect with Nature and its immense complexity and intelligence. Many of us who practise permaculture or organic gardening have known for a long time that being in Nature is healing and lifting the Spirit.

Just this last year researchers from Princeton found scientific evidence for these powers as well. In their paper, they argue that household gardening supports high emotional well-being, especially elevating the emotional well-being of those who have to face many difficulties in life (eg. women, low-income people) and it does not matter if we do it in companionship or on our own.

I have been practising permaculture for more than 20 years. I have my amazing 3500 m2 permaculture forest garden back in Hungary, so I am no stranger to ecosystems and the energy boosts Nature has to offer. Even so, I was surprised about how much emotional support and energy my little balcony permaculture in Malta offered me since the pandemic started in March 2020.

We had to move flats right before the pandemic started. It was the first time in my life that I started to live in an urban flat, with two decent-sized terraces. Right after we moved in, I started to plant passionately. After a trip abroad, we had to self-isolate for two weeks upon returning to Malta. This was when this unusual urban permaculture journey began.

I set up a small permaculture system with pots for growing edible plants. I also set up vermiculture bins to recycle the kitchen waste with the help of earthworms. I created a funny little drip irrigation system from plastic bottles. We’ve managed to produce all our organic leafy salad crops and most herbs ever since. We even had some lemons and oranges. As the system started to build up, we could see spiders and geckos moving in, and lately, even ladybirds appeared together with some sparrows. I managed to save loads of seeds from chilli, basil, beetroot, chard, radishes, etc. I must say that it has been an amazing and uplifting experience, as well as a full educational year not only for me but for my whole family. Even my grown-up children appreciated watching the “garden life” after spending hours online studying.

I was and have been super busy doing my work online. Hours after hours of meetings, writing, thinking. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to stay mostly at home, waiting for the pandemic to pass. This is a fact of this last year: spending some time out with my plants, observing and interacting with this tiny little ecosystem had an awful lot to offer in terms of joy, beauty, action, and reflection. Not to mention the amount of organic vegetables, some of which I managed to offer to friends to share. Nature is amazing and I am so grateful for its gifts and teachings!

Since March 2020, we all are learning to cope with the social, emotional, mental and economic impact of these extraordinary times. Some people are luckier than others, and not everyone was hit the same way. But I think it is fair to say that it has been rather challenging for most of us. According to Richmond foundation’s research on how Covid-19 is effecting our mental health, many people felt lonely, worried, bothered or fearful during the last year.

We also learned who the keyworkers are. Those who care for us, look after us, produce and deliver our food. Covid-19, among many other things, taught us that we need to pay more attention to how we care for Nature and its creatures, including ourselves, Humans. Setting up urban spaces and community gardens allows people to grow some of their food. It will not only help the environment but surely our own mental and emotional well-being. And with that, we can all contribute to all those keyworks that must be carried out to run our societies in a healthy and prosperous manner.

Earth is amazing. Nature is amazing. Permaculture is amazing. Thankfully, we can enjoy their bounties even in urban environments.

Kinga Milankovics (Permaculturist)


Kinga’s permaculture garden in Hungary
Permaculture is possible in small spaces too

Permaculture workshop with students from  St Edward's College in Malta
Permaculture workshop with the students from St Edward’s College, Malta : https://foemalta.org/stedwards.edu.mt
Permaculture workshop with the students from St Edward’s College, Malta