2020 saw people returning to their garden, balcony or window sill. In times of stress and uncertainty these places provide necessary sources of relaxation, comfort and enjoyment and are hugely beneficial to your health and well-being.
Being in the garden can be a great way to accept a new start in life as gardening gives you the valuable understanding that life goes on, and that even if it’s not how you’d planned, you can still make it work. Also, gardening and horticulture provide opportunities for people to connect to their environment and to their community, both obvious building blocks for health and well-being.
"A gardening green revolution has started – with increasing scientific evidence highlighting the critical importance of garden plants, gardens and gardening benefiting our physical, mental, and social well-being. There are very few, if any, other activities that can achieve all of the things that horticulture and gardening can – in particular, the measurable beneficial impacts on active lifestyles, mental well-being, and social interaction.
The act of gardening helps us to keep fit and connect with others, to enjoy and be part of nature and to revel in colour, aroma, wildlife and beauty. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains. Aside from cultivating beautiful plants that delight our senses, we can also grow food and even cures for minor ailments in our gardens."
Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS.
Jekka summarises the top 5 benefits of gardening and horticulture as:
Research has found that gardening is a fantastic way to burn calories. One hour of weeding burns up to 300 calories. An hour behind a hand-push lawn mower can burn as many as 500 calories. This is about the same as an hour playing tennis. Even the ‘gentler’ activities like seed sowing and deadheading can involve complex reaching and pinching movements, balance, dexterity, recognition and hand-eye coordination. The best thing about gardening is that, unlike an hour on treadmill, it doesn’t feel like exercise.
Gardening has many proven emotional and psychological benefits; simply allowing views of green space or a natural scene can relax people and reduce stress levels. By actively engaging people in a garden also reduces stress. The American biologist E.O. Wilson wrote that humans have an almost genetic predisposition to seek contact with nature. Since we evolved in such close proximity to nature, it stands to reason that as a species we are much better adapted to natural environments than urban spaces.
Gardening and nature as well as benefiting us physically, emotionally and psychologically have both been shown to improve cognition. The University of Essex research has shown that even a short exposure to nature can improve a person’s ability to perform and focus attention on cognitive tasks like mental arithmetic and spelling words backwards.
As we reach our four score years and ten the old adage, ‘use it or lose it’ becomes more relevant. Horticulture & gardening combines numeracy, literacy, problem-solving, memory, life-skills, communication, and involves a healthy amount of sensory stimulation. So it can be a valuable resource for helping people to live well and age better.
I have never known a mean gardener, they happily share gardening tips with anyone who wants to know ‘what is that?’ and ‘how do you grow it?’ or allotment gardens that enable people to feel part of a community. Gardeners are often avid enthusiasts and are more than happy to share tips and ideas. For these reasons, gardeners often develop reciprocal relationships and support networks.
Gardening can be both treatment and prevention
Whether we garden on a windowsill, a patio or in a much larger space, we can enjoy the health benefits of gardening at home or at work. It will make us happier and healthier and can easily become a good habit that we keep for life. Even N.I.C.E. recommend that the garden and also that the activity of gardening provides a non-pharmacological approach which can be utilised to improve the quality of life for the ageing population.
Therefore, for 2021, we prescribe a good dose of horticultural therapy.