Gardens and Health
- Category: Personal | Health | Human Development | Social | Community Quality of Life | Economic | Prevention
Gardens are intimately connected to our health and wellbeing across the life-course.
Buck, David. (2016). Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice. The King’s Fund: London, England. 65 pp.
This report has three aims:
• to bring together in one place and make sense of the wide range of literature on gardens and wellbeing, demonstrating how gardens and gardening are related to health across the life-course, from schools to family life and into older age
• to demonstrate how gardening interventions have an important place in the NHS and wider health and care system, particularly given the focus on greater integration of health services, social care and prevention, and on working with people as citizens within communities rather than just as patients
• to place ‘gardens and health’ within the current strategic health policy context, proposing recommendations on how gardening – if brought into the mainstream – can be an important mechanism for reaching health policy goals, nationally and locally.
Well-designed studies of school gardening suggest that children’s fruit and vegetable intake can be significantly increased combined with efforts to improve parental support; a further range of studies points to increased knowledge, and preferences for fruit and vegetables. Teachers report positive wellbeing effects, personal achievement and pride in ‘growing’ and, where volunteers are involved, gardening can be a way to break down social boundaries inherent in academic settings. For children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems, gardening as a non-academic task and the garden as a place of peace and meditation are particularly valuable.
Parents value gardens as play and discovery spaces for their children, with just 2 per cent in a survey saying they would ‘swap a bigger house for no garden’, but increasing numbers of younger adults also want to grow food. This is one reason for excess demand for allotments. In well-designed studies, allotment gardening has been found to improve mood, self-esteem and physiological measures such as cortisol (associated with acute stress) compared with matched controls.
The mental health benefits of gardening are broad and diverse. Studies have shown significant reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social functioning and wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development. Nonetheless, there remains a need for better-designed studies that would allow a deeper understanding of the mechanisms through which health and wellbeing benefits accrue.
As we get older, our relationship with gardens and gardening changes. Surveys suggest they become much more important to us as a source of physical activity, but also in terms of our identity and independence, and in ameliorating loneliness. There is emerging evidence that gardening may also be important in falls prevention (helping to maintain good gait and balance) and also in dementia prevention and cognitive decline.
Gardens are intimately connected to our health and wellbeing across the life-course. There is much more that the health and social care system can do to take advantage of our love affair with gardening, but there are four specific areas of good practice: in social prescribing; community gardens, volunteering and recovery from illness; dementia care; and end-of-life care.
Gardens are also important to support recovery from illness. There are some well-known examples, such as Horatio’s Garden, which provides beautiful gardens as part of therapy for patients with spinal injuries. The effects of gardens in care homes and hospices have been particularly well studied, particularly in dementia care. Most dementia studies report that exposure to gardens reduces agitation, aggression and other symptoms. Qualitative studies point to improvements in concentration, connection with past memories, and access to natural light.