fbpx Skip to content

Health Benefits

“Gardening brings us close to the soil and connects us with nature’s powers of renewal in a way that can be both calming and invigorating. So it is that in these anxious times, when the future feels uncertain, that tending plants is providing many people with a psychological lifeline.

Although the crisis we are living through may be new, there is nothing new in this effect, for throughout the ages gardens have offered people a safe green space in which to restore and recharge themselves. Garden Day invites you to take a pause to do just that. It’s about making time to immerse ourselves in the peacefulness and beauty of our plants and gardens, and celebrating the restorative power of nature.”

Sue Stuart-Smith – Author: The Well Gardened Mind  

In your garden, happiness is all around you. It may just be a feeling, but the fact is 96% of those surveyed by the free gardening app Candide, said they felt happier when spending downtime in their green spaces.

Gardens are good for you. It’s indisputable. And below we’ve shared a few reasons why.

Sue Stuart-Smith, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of The Well Gardened Mind, believes that we have evolved to be in nature. “When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us,” she writes. “It is why people feel more fully alive and energised in the natural world, why gardeners report feeling calmed and invigorated.”

This link to nature is primal, entrenched in our DNA. We humans have spent far longer in sync with our surroundings than not. Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, calculates that for 350,000 generations people lived in close proximity to nature. We’ve only been living in cities for six.

Gardening just feels right, but there’s a wealth of science to back that feeling up. Health and wellness expert Dr Esther M. Sternberg says that gardens are particularly effective at bringing the body to a relaxed physiological state, in part due to the amount of green in them. “The photoreceptor pigment gene that emerged first in evolutionary history is the one most sensitive to the spectral distribution of sunlight and to the wavelengths of light reflected from green plants,” she explains. The colour green requires no adjustment when it strikes the eye, so when surrounded by it in a garden, it produces a calming, restorative effect.

And on top of that, your body is doing all the right things. That exercise is a mood lifter, the distinctly earthy and musty smell of soil is familiar and grounding, your immune system is being boosted and, as neuroscientist Christopher Lowry discovered in 2010, Mycobacterium vaccae, a family of bacteria that live naturally in soil, enhance our serotonin levels. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.

Caring for plants is an innately generous gesture. By planting a seed you are setting wheels in motion, laying the foundation for a better future. It’s a mindful exercise, something so simple yet simultaneously profound. “The garden is a place that brings us back to the basic biological rhythms of life. The pace of life is the pace of plants,” writes Stuart-Smith. She also captures gardening’s reward perfectly: “Plants are so much less challenging and intimidating than people.”

Want to live to a hundred? Then try gardening. A global study of five places where residents are famed for their longevity – Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, Loma Linda in California and Sardinia in Italy – found some interesting commonalities when it came to the centenarians who lived there. They all enjoyed social support networks, did their daily exercises and followed plant-based diets. But in addition, they all gardened, happily and healthily, well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. Talk about gardening for life.

Gardening together is uplifting. You get green-fingered knowledge and a shared workload, but most important are the social benefits. The sense of community gained from when you all dig in is the perfect antidote to loneliness.

And even when enjoyed solo, gardens enhance mental wellbeing. The United Kingdom’s National Garden Scheme knows this, and gives visitors unique access to 3,500 exceptional, private gardens across England and Wales. It also raises millions for health and nursing charities, and runs Gardens and Health Week to highlight the mental health benefits of starting, or even visiting, a garden.

Ever felt a pang of eco-anxiety? You may not know it by name, but it’s a chronic fear of ecological and environmental disaster. At some point we’ve all thought about the future and gone cold. But the only way to turn this around is through action, and every time you plant a seed or allow your lawn to be a little wilder, you’re investing in the future. And that alone can fend off the fear.

A History Of Healing

For centuries, from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Persia and Greece, gardens have been integral to the world of healing. A document, allegedly written by a monk in the early part of the ninth century, describes an ideal garden for the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Gall in Switzerland. In it he mentions many formal features found in today’s healing gardens: intersecting paths for contemplative walking, a well or fountain, a herb garden and a green “court” or lawn.

The Orto Botanico di Padova in northeast Italy, founded in 1545, was one of the first educational physic gardens associated with medicine, and remains one of the oldest existing botanical gardens. The vast knowledge collected from it, and many other gardens around the world, has contributed immensely to modern medicine.

The Chelsea Physic Garden in the United Kingdom has occupied four acres of land on the edge of the Thames since 1673. First established by the Apothecaries in order to grow medicinal plants, this extraordinary London garden has helped change the world, and contains a unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful and medicinal plants.

Gardens were acknowledged for their rehabilitative powers as far back as the fifteenth century when Spanish patients were encouraged to take up gardening. Three centuries later German horticultural theorist, Christian Cay Lorenz, wrote some of the first recommendations for hospital garden designs. And the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, extolled the virtues of fresh air and natural sunlight, and strongly believed that plants and outdoor spaces should be valued for their healing qualities.

Nature’s Medicine

Therapeutic gardens are not just a trend…they’re the future. Research has shown that gardens are places of healing. Literally. The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom now offers green social prescribing for patients, an outdoor activity that helps them heal quicker and reduces the need for pain medication.

 “As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible,” said Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of Awakenings. “All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens”

Hospitals have also begun incorporating gardens into their designs, and there are exciting future careers in horticultural therapy and therapeutic garden landscaping. Horatio’s Garden is a UK-based charity that creates and nurtures beautiful gardens in NHS spinal injury centres. Maggie’s is a cancer support charity whose award-winning buildings are surrounded by therapeutic gardens created by leading garden designers. And the Greenfingers Charity builds therapeutic gardens at children’s hospices, spaces that give children with life-limiting conditions a chance to relax and be inspired.

Whether you use them to grow edible or not, gardens are food for the soul. Numerous studies have found that gardening can assist your body in fighting disease.

  •       Protect your mind and memory as you age.
  •       Boost your mood endorphins.
  •       Aid your recovery after hospitalisation.
  •       Be good for your heart.
  •       Improve your hand strength. 

Chris Beardshaw, the horticulturalist, landscape architect and 2020 Garden Day Ambassador, is a believer when it comes to the many proven benefits gained from plants, gardens, landscapes and nature. “There is evidence that flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotions, mood, behaviour and memory,” he states. “Anyone who has spent even the shortest of moments in a well-designed garden would surely acknowledge the transformative effects it had on them.”

There’s no arguing with that, or the fact that gardens can reduce stress factors like blood pressure and heart rate while increasing comfort and tranquillity. A well-considered green space has the power to improve cognitive performance, enhancing perception and improving attentiveness and creativity. It also contributes majorly to your good mood, and positively impacts mental health.

And let’s be honest, they’re just downright beautiful spaces. So why wouldn’t you want to inhale, let go and spend some me-time in these exquisite, tranquil sanctuaries?

Healing gardens are for everyone, but there are two very distinct types.

Visual restorative gardens contain all those bright and beautiful delights that you love. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to creating one…you decide. It could be poppies, it could be petunias, it could even be a Zen garden that you enjoy strolling along. Regardless, these spaces are refuges of tranquillity, personal havens that offer peace and restoration.

Empowering gardens are much more interactive. If toiling, weeding and seeding are your idea of therapy, then these spaces are for you. As the sweat flows, you’ll engage with your surroundings, get your hands dirty and trigger your imagination. And you can do all this knowing that everything you plant contributes to a healthier future.

Plant A Palette

Gardens are anything but grey. So use colour to set the mood. Go with whites and blues to create a calming area, or get all vibrant and creative with bold reds and oranges. A vast palette is at your fingertips…you’re only limited by your imagination.

Group Your Greenery

A garden is no place for segregation, so why not mix yours up? Ornamentals grow happily alongside aromatics, herbs and even vegetables, meaning your green space can be both fun and functional.

A Touch Of Texture

Nothing says healthy and happy like a textured garden. Hardy woods with soft stems allow depth and delight, while flowers like roses will always play centre stage. And with a wide range of florals and grasses to choose from, you’ve got all the elements to create a unique tapestry.

More specifically, daisies and cow parsley are inexpensive and they attract insects and bees, whilst snapdragons, salvia, sage, aquilegia, foxgloves and forget-me-nots give you a bouquet of options to play with. 

Home isn’t what it used to be…and that’s not a bad thing. As living rooms double as offices and dining room tables are turned into boardrooms, plants have become a welcome addition to these spaces. Ongoing research indicates that, in addition to purifying the air, indoor plants have an incredibly calming effect. So when the meetings drag on and the deadlines loom, it’s good to have pots of gracious green goodness nearby, minimising stress and maximising your mood. Also, they look fantastic in the background of your Zoom call.

Here are a few incredible indoor plants to consider:

  • English ivy – not only does it get rid of mould, but it’s always bright and perky, hanging down to say hello as you start your day.
  • Aloe vera – they’re easy to handle, purify the air and contain a gel that’s great for healing wounds or skin ailments.
  • Bamboo palm – a natural humidifier and pollutant flusher, these super-chilled plants add a tropical touch to any space.
  •  Jade plant – a sumptuous succulent that can resemble a tree, this plant’s rich, green leaves can be pruned and given out to friends, spreading the love.

Nature is our greatest teacher, and nobody knows this more than children. Being outdoors stimulates all the senses, and in addition to aiding development, playing in the garden develops curiosity and creativity, impacting positively on emotions and reducing stress.  Gardening goes a long way to helping children see themselves in a positive light so encourage interaction with nature and free play in open spaces.

In the UK, the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS)Campaign for School Gardening encourages educational institutions to actively foster a love for gardening, and engenders a sense of ownership and responsibility in children. In addition to boosting self-esteem, the campaign has shown that gardening directly benefits children in a number of ways:

  • Improving physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Building life skills like confidence, teamwork and communication.
  • Increasing literacy, numeracy and oral skills
  • Enriching the entire curriculum from science, maths and geography to art, design and languages
  • Encouraging a better and healthier lifestyle.
  • Teaching about the environment and sustainability.
  • Helping young people engage with their surroundings better, and develop a sense of responsibility.

RECOMMENDED READING​

The Well Gardened Mind – Sue Stuart-Smith

My House Plant Changed My Life – David Domoney

RHS Your Wellbeing Garden – Alistair Griffiths, Matt Keightley, Annie Gatti & Zia Allaway

Rootbound: Rewilding A Life – Alice Vincent (Friend of Garden Day)

Healing with Plants: The Chelsea Physic Garden Herbal – Chelsea Physic Garden

The Nature Fix – Florence Williams