Groundbreaking report confirms the health benefits of gardening
PUBLISHED: 15:42 27 January 2017
We've always known that being outside in the garden makes us feel good. Now, the health benefits of gardening have been confirmed in a groundbreaking report. Words and pictures by Leigh Clapp
The beauty of a garden fills our souls with joy, while the act of cultivation gives us a tangible sense of achievement as we watch the plants we nurture thrive and blossom. Digging in the dirt and then caring and tending for plants can have incredible effects on your well-being. Whether it’s a gorgeous bunch of sweet peas you can pick for your loved ones or the ingredients for a fresh salad straight out of the garden, there is something special about the act of growing.
There are also benefits we may not fully realise, for both physical and mental health, with gardening now even being prescribed by the medical profession. Gardens are often thought of as intimate private spaces attached to private households but they can also be large private or formal gardens open to the public, or part of hospitals, care homes or hospices. Gardens serve many purposes: cultivation, as exercise spaces, relaxation, solace and recovery; places to play, meet and volunteer.
Last year The National Gardens Scheme commissioned a report from The King’s Fund, which calls for greater recognition for the powerful role in the care of our minds and bodies and integration of gardens in NHS and public health policy. The report was the first to pull together all the evidence showing how visiting gardens and gardening plays a role in promoting good health. Access to gardens has been linked to reducing a range of issues, including depression, loneliness, stress, symptoms of dementia, improving a sense of personal achievement among children and benefiting conditions such as heart disease, cancer and obesity.
Gardeners have always known the benefits of gardening. I chatted to a few of the many green-fingered proponents in our county to discover their experience. The NGS Hampshire County Organiser Mark Porter and his wife Jackie garden three acres of formal and informal areas complete with a kitchen garden, and also have a vineyard at their home, The Down House in Itchen Abbas. They keep the interest going for a long season, opening in February for carpets of crocus, snowdrops and winter stems and again in September for late harvest fruit and veg, as well as the final burst of flowers and the ripening grapes. Their comments will be sure to resonate for many. “As well as the obvious physical benefits of keeping active, we really appreciate the mental relaxation that working in the garden provides us in our busy lives. It is very therapeutic to be able to concentrate on planting out vegetables in neat patterns or digging a new bed in preparation for sowing seeds. We also notice that being in a garden has the same effect on some of our NGS visitors who may at times arrive a bit stressed but after enjoying time wandering in the garden and eating tea and cake, they leave visibly more relaxed and happier!”
For Marylyn Abbott of West Green House and Garden, Hartley Wintney, both the act of gardening and just being in the garden is also therapeutic. “Years ago I worked in a very stressful Opera Theatre in Sydney, Australia, and when the artistic traumas became too much, I would leave my desk and wander into the nearby Botanic Gardens, and sit on a bench beside the pond in the shade of a huge Morton Bay fig. An hour later the calm of the garden and the antics of the wild birds on the pond restored my inner calm and I returned to cope with the current drama. It worked every time,” she recalls. I am sure a visit to West Green works the same magic for many, giving a quiet time of de-stressing and just admiring the beauty all around.
We could do much more to nurture and maximize the contribution gardens make to enhancing people’s health. Currently the formal use of gardens in England’s health and social care system remains very limited, despite promising results from a range of interventions, including GPs ‘social prescribing’ gardening, and garden projects in hospices. Some acute conditions can be helped substantially. Scott Yates, 29, from Titchfield is an inspiring example. I met him at RHS Hampton Court last year where he helped build ‘The Crohn’s Disease’ Show Garden. Ten years ago he was rushed to hospital weighing 7.5 stone. What was thought to be an eating disorder was diagnosed as the incurable and life long condition, Crohn’s disease and he needed two emergency operations and is now on medication and suffers the side effects of the treatment. “I was previously a chef and since taking up gardening have found it reduces my stress level and prevents the painful flare-ups. I want to show people that you can achieve your goals and have a normal life. I don’t want Crohn’s to define me and I think so far, I’m doing quite well,” he explains. As well as working at Abbey Garden Centre, Scott is completing an FdSc Horticulture with Plantsmanship and Design Degree at Sparsholt College and we wish him good health and happiness with his wife and young son as he grows his career further.
Hopefully these findings will encourage you to wrap up warm, get outside and enjoy. Happy gardening for 2017!
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