“Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.” Author unknown
Most Australians live in urban environments and have limited connection to or accessibility to green spaces. Much of modern society has developed to protect us from the more harmful aspects of nature – we live in a built environment to shield ourselves from extremes of temperature and weather, we eat food that has been repeatedly processed, removed from its original locale and shipped from remote corners of the globe and we drive cars on concrete roads, removing ourselves from direct contact with our environment. As a society we are largely disconnected from the habitats from which we evolutionarily emerged and to which we will eventually all return. Some commentators argue that as societies become more advanced, they also get sicker, with rates of certain cancers, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes far higher in advanced Western economies than elsewhere (Soga, Gaston and Yamaura, 2017).
Health experts attempting to address these challenges increasingly advocate increased accessibility to and connection with natural green spaces, arguing that this provides multiple health benefits, including encouraging play and exercise (see associated factsheets Benefit of Play – what does the evidence say? and Moving for Inspiration –Body Movement and Mental Health), community cohesion and improved relationships, as well as warding off the impacts of stress and mental health disorders. The current evidence mainly relies on anecdotal, cross sectional or qualitative data with limited capacity for randomised controlled trials to more stringently test for causation. There are concerns in the literature regarding publication bias meaning that more pro-gardening articles get published more easily, skewing the overall impression of effectiveness. However, several sources of data internationally does suggest that access to greens paces, or gardening activities (whether individual or in a community setting)is associated with
- Better food choices, more physical activity and lower rates of obesity and/or BMI (van Lier, Utter, Denny et al,2017; Soga, Gaston and Yamaura, 2017; Buck, 2016; Mason, 2015)
- Increased feelings of wellbeing and lower rates of depression (van Lier, Utter, Denny et al, 2017; Soga, Gaston and Yamaura, 2017; Buck, 2016; Mason, 2015; Shiue, 2016)
- Lower rates of heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and risk factors for poor cardiovascular health (Veldheer, Tuan, Wadsworth et al, 2021; Park, Lee, Park, HG et al, 2017)
- Increased experience of social inclusion, connection with neighbours and feelings of team work (for community garden activities) (Spano, D’Este, Giannico et al, 2020; Mason, 2015; Buck,2016)
The COVID 19 pandemic has seriously disrupted individual and community capacity to socially interact; this has been necessary to limit the rates of illness and death associated with the virus, but has also highlighted the importance of social connections and relationships in maintaining our sense of wellbeing and safety (see associated fact sheet Relationships, communication and connection: Love the ones you’re with.) A study in Italy aimed to explore whether gardening during periods of lockdown helped reduced COVID related distress. The authors noted that gardening supplies sales increased by 44% during the first COVID wave, with 3million Italians taking up the hobby. 303 people responded to an online survey exploring demographic data and measures of emotional distress. Statistical analysis found that those who reported gardening during lockdown reported less emotional distress overall. The authors conclude that encouraging gardening for individuals or communities in distress could help mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic (Theodoroua, Pannob, Carrusaet al, 2021). A study in Scotland reviewing the use of gardening for older citizens in lockdown led to similar conclusions (Corley, Okely, Taylor et al, 2021)
Taking time to tend to your plants, mow and rake the lawn, or plant some seeds in a pot on your balcony may be a vital and sustainable way to tend to your own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of your community.
- Buck, David. Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice. The Kings Fund, 2016, accessed online at https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/gardens-and-healthon 18 September, 2021
- Corley, Okely, Taylor et al. “Home garden use during COVID-19:Associations with physical and mental wellbeing in older adults.” In Journal of environmental psychology, 2021,February, Volume 73.
- Mason, Mary-Claire."Gardening your way to health" in Nursing Standard 2015,Volume 30, number 49, pp. 24 – 26
- Shiue, Ivy. “Gardening is beneficial for adult mental health: Scottish HealthSurvey, 2012–2013.” In ScandinavianJournal of Occupational Therapy, 2016, Volume 23, Number 4, pp. 320 – 25
- Smidl, Mitchell and Creighton. “Outcomes of a TherapeuticGardening Program in a Mental Health Recovery Center.” In Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 2017, Volume 33, Number 4,pp. 374–385
- Soga, Gaston and Yamaura. “Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis” in PreventiveMedicine Reports, 2017, Volume 5, pp. 92–99
- Spano, D’Este, Giannico et al. “Are Community Gardening andHorticultural Interventions Beneficial for Psychosocial Well-Being? AMeta-Analysis.” In International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020, volume 17, 3584.
- Theodoroua, Pannob, Carrusa et al. “Stay home, stay safe, stay green: The role of gardening activities on mental health during the Covid-19home confinement.” In Urban Forestry& Urban Greening, 2021, June, Volume61.
- van Lier, Utter, Denny et al. “Home Gardening and the Health and Well-Being of Adolescents.” In Health Promotion Practice 2017, January, Volume 18, Number 1, pp.34–43
- Veldheer, Tuan, Wadsworth et al. “Gardening andCardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in the 2019 Behavioural Risk Factor SurveillanceSystem (BRFSS) Survey.” In Current developments in nutrition, 2021, June, Volume 5, pp. 1100.
- Whatley, Fortune and Williams. “Enabling occupational participation and social inclusion for people recovering from mental ill-health through community gardening.” In AustralianOccupational Therapy Journal, 2015, Volume 62, pp. 428 – 37
- Park, Lee, Park, HG et al. “Gardening Intervention as a Low- toModerate-Intensity Physical Activity for Improving Blood Lipid Profiles, BloodPressure, Inflammation, and Oxidative Stress in Women over the Age of 70: A Pilot Study.” In Hort Science, 2017,January, Volume 52, Number 1, pp.200-205
Author: Dr Alice Dwyer BA (Hons) MBBS (Hons) MPsych FRANZCP