We wrote before about ‘awe’ being good for you, with talk of a reduction in chronic illness and stress, and an improvement in feelings of wellbeing. For both of us, nature is awesome. We love watching daffodils emerge in spring and seeing things grow.
It’s no surprise then that according to a good lot of research, gardening is good for you. Studies have shown that there is a clear relationship between gardening and the reduction in stress and anxiety, as well as improvements in mood, self esteem, and satisfaction. Gardening, and possibly also the social interaction you may experience, impacts our endorphin systems so producing the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. And if you are lucky to get it, the feeling of the warm sun on your face is just heaven, and of course the vitamin D generated boosts our mood and immune system amongst other things.
Studies have shown that there is a clear relationship between gardening and the reduction in stress and anxiety, as well as improvements in mood, self-esteem, and satisfaction.
But it’s not only your mental wellbeing that improves. Gardening is a physical activity and as we know, physical activity reduces our risk to many diseases, but there appears to be a bonus with doing this exercise in nature. There are studies that show improved outcomes with patients who look out on a garden versus those who look out on a concreted sculpture garden, and a Japanese study determined that viewing plants altered EEG recordings and reduced stress, fear, anger and sadness, as well as reducing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension! Another study in the UK showed that views of plants and trees from post-operative wards improved the mood of patients, and reduced use of painkillers, surgical complications and length of stay.
And then there’s the smell of nature – remember aromatherapy? Breathing in certain volatile compounds given off by conifers has been shown to boost your ‘Natural Killer’ immune cells which help fight infection and cancers. This same class of compounds are found in other plants so you may be benefiting in all sorts of ways from getting out there and ‘smelling the roses’. You don’t need to wait for the research to catch up.
While we now have the science to tell us the benefits of gardening and being in nature, therapeutic gardens have been used in hospitals for thousands of years, and Florence Nightingale was an advocate. Scandinavians have ‘Forest Schools’, the Japanese, again, have ‘Forest Bathing’ and after the first world war the government ran horticulture courses to help rehabilitate ex-servicemen.
According to psychiatrist and psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith, author of The Well Gardened Mind, the amount of gardening being done in general increases after a difficult time, for example wars and disasters. This is called “urgent Biophilia” – bio = life, philia = love – where something within us seeks engagement with nature – perhaps, it has been suggested, to summon resilience in the face of a crisis. If so, about now seems a good time to get out in nature and answer that call!
But before you rush into your garden to build your post (?)-pandemic resilience, read the tips below.
Advice to would-be gardeners to avoid hurting yourself
While gardening is good for your health and soul, it can be hard on your on your back, and body. However, there are ways to make it easier.
- The main advice is to do it little and often. Do one task for about 20-30 minutes. It may help to set a timer so that you don’t forget and get carried away.
- Vary the tasks. For example, do a low-level task like weeding then do a higher-level task like pruning, to use your body differently. As hard as it might feel, you don’t have to finish weeding that bed all in one go.
- Raised beds are a good idea. It’s easy to create these with sleepers. This also creates a seat for you to sit or kneel on when you are weeding . Ready-made raised beds, which look like a table, are available too.
- Don’t make your flower beds too wide so that you have to stretch awkwardly into the beds to reach the plants at the back.
- Equipment: invest in a kneeler with handles so that you can kneel down to weed but your knees are protected and you can use the handles to push up with, or sit to garden. There are seats with wheels too so that you can move it easily round the garden. And it sounds fun! Don’t have tools like spades that are too big for you. There are spades designed for women for example. There are also many long handled tools available. Several sites online sell a variety of aids to make gardening easier and also have helpful tips.
Useful gardening organisations
These are the people behind ‘National Growing for Wellbeing Week’ (7-13 June 2021) – a week to highlight the benefits of gardening and particularly focussing on the mental health benefits of gardening. This organisation has a wealth of information on their website including growing guides workshops. Although most are aimed at children, there are some for adults. Visit Life at No 27’s website for more information.
The National Garden Scheme, with its famous yellow book that lists gardens open in your area, gives visitors unique access to over 3,600 exceptional private gardens in England and Wales, and raises impressive amounts of money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake. The organisation also promotes gardening for health and has tips on how to garden on their website.
Something that I think is the most interesting is that, at the moment, they have 190 virtual gardens that people can visit. They have also been involved in a trial of virtual reality gardens. People “tour” gardens using virtual reality googles. The immersive effect seems to have positive health benefits as it tricks the brain into reducing patient’s pain. It does this by distraction in a similar way that guided meditation works, making the brain focus on something other than the pain which changes the perception of how painful something is.
Much more than the Chelsea Flower Show, the RHS site is the place to go for gardening advice, buying plants and seeds online, searching for gardening groups near you, courses, workshops, horticulture qualifications, gardens to visit (including virtual tours), how to be a citizen scientist, the Bring Back Our Beetles campaign, volunteer opportunities and more. You can also sign up to receive their newsletter with seasonal gardening tips. Visit the RHS website for more information.
The Wildlife Trusts’ mission is to restore a third of the UK’s land and seas for nature by 2030. The organisation looks after more than 2,300 nature reserves and operates more than 100 visitor and education centres in the UK. The website has a section on wildlife gardening with advice on things you can do in your garden to encourage wildlife, such as how to make a bee hotel or grow a hedge to encourage wildlife. You’ll also find things to do, eg, family wildflower walks, places to go, and guides to wildlife experiences, such as where and how to look out for wildlife. The site also offers opportunities to volunteer or become a citizen scientist. If you are into photography there is also a list of competitions you could enter. Visit The Wildlife Trusts website for more information.
The National Allotment Society supports the allotment community across the UK. The site offers advice on how to get an allotment, member plot vacancies and downloads.
How can gardening relieve stress and help us look after our mental health? What lies behind the restorative power of the natural world?
In a powerful combination of contemporary neuroscience, psychoanalysis and brilliant storytelling, The Well Gardened Mind investigates the magic that many gardeners have known for years – working with nature can radically transform our health, wellbeing and confidence.
Finally, this is an affiliate links so if you do purchase anything after using these links we may benefit from a small commission, which we would appreciate of course. 🙂
Authors: Karen Farrant and Katie McGregor, Love Life over 40