National Gardening Week

National Gardening Week

National Gardening Week - 1-7th May 2023

Weeding for Wellbeing: Gardening as a Creative Health Practice

The warming weather sees many of us dusting off our trowels, ready for a busy gardening season ahead. And the timing couldn’t be better as the first week in May 2023 sees the Royal Horticultural Society's annual National Gardening Week. Since its start in 2012, each year, people share their love of gardening by hosting events and talking on social media and with friends and family about what they're growing.

The week also illustrates how gardens and gardening can make a difference in the lives of everyone in the UK. It helps more people see how fun it is to grow plants and make beautiful green spaces. There are plenty of other benefits to getting in the garden too.

Here at the National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH) we believe creative pursuits such as gardening, being outdoors and connecting with nature are good for us - they can prevent ill-health and promote health and wellbeing. A growing number of scientific studies and research point to data-backed benefits for our bodies, minds and communities, evidencing how gardening alongside other creative pursuits can aid the management of long-term conditions, treatments, and recovery across the whole life course.

NCCH is delighted leading British horticulturist Monty Don is a Commissioner for our Creative Health Review and supporting us to understand the creative and wellbeing benefits of gardening.

The physical benefits of gardening

Exercise is good for you. Everyone knows that. The NHS says that people who exercise regularly have a 35% lower chance of getting a stroke or heart disease. And there is some evidence that people who exercise in greener environments enjoy it more, which leads to overall improved physical and mental health.

Gardening can help you increase your heart rate and burn some extra calories. Harvard Health Publishing reports that 30 minutes of general gardening burns the same calories as engaging in sports like badminton or volleyball. No gym membership required.

Gardening is an enjoyable and accessible way for everyone to routinely work towards the NHS’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. With many finding it easier to maintain a consistent and persistent routine because of the pleasant and ongoing nature of gardening.

The psychological benefits of gardening

Can a pastime as ordinary as gardening help tackle hard-hitting issues such as anxiety and depression? In short, the answer is, yes. A 2020 RHS study published in partnership with the University of Sheffield found that adding plants to a paved front garden might reduce stress levels by as much as eight weekly mindfulness sessions.

The same study polled over 6,000 people, and the results show that those who garden daily have 6.6% higher well-being scores and 4.2% lower stress levels than those who don't garden at all. Gardening relieved depression (13%), increased energy (12%), and reduced stress (16%) among those with health issues.

Six out of ten people took to their gardens for "pleasure and enjoyment". Almost one-third garden for the 'health benefits,' one-fifth for 'wellbeing,' and 15% to feel peaceful and relaxed.

Gardening, whether it’s weeding, planting or pruning, offers an opportunity for reflection and encourages a sense of wellbeing. Studies show gardening is a way not only to restore damaged mental health but also to maintain positive emotions and mindsets.

The social benefits of gardening

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby that continues to be popular for individuals. But it also has many social benefits that can foster connections, promote community engagement, and enhance wellbeing. The garden is not just a place for growing plants but also a space for people to come together and connect.

Local projects are available all over the country. You can find community vegetable plots combined with youth counselling and plant nurseries that provide horticultural training for young people with learning disabilities.

One such initiative is a community garden and allotment space in Bensham, Gateshead set up by collaborating with local charities and a GP Surgery. The surgery engages in social prescribing by using the allotment to provide patients access to an outside space. The GP Surgery has discovered that regular access to the garden gives a comprehensive approach to health and wellbeing. It encourages patients to spend time in the space for rehabilitation. It has proved highly beneficial in assisting individuals suffering from mental diseases, dementia, frailty, and chronic illnesses.

There are many forms of creative health, but gardening remains a promising and accessible option for improving the health of many. Get sowing, growing, and reaping all the wellbeing rewards gardening offers. Thousands of people all over the country are feeling the benefits of these life-affirming activities and adding to the growing evidence that gardens and gardening are good for our mental, social, and physical wellbeing.

Image from Gateshead
Image from Gateshead

Case study

Growing Together: How a shared allotment is supporting patients in Gateshead

In Bensham, Gateshead, a collaboration between a general practice and local charities has led to the opening of a community allotment.

Sheinaz Stansfield, a garden enthusiast and the Practice Manager at Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group, sparked the initiative. She was keen to offer a garden space to her patients as an alternative to support their recovery.

Ms Stansfield discovered an opportunity through her work with Best of Bensham, a community organisation focused on improving health inequalities. The organisation had received an allotment space donated by Gateshead Carers Association. The area required funds for refurbishment and maintenance. In a joint effort, the general practice donated £2,000 towards the allotment, and the space was shared between the organisations.

The allotment offers patients access to an outside area through social prescribing. The practice has found that the allotment provides a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It invites patients to spend time in the space as part of their recovery. It has been instrumental in supporting patients with mental health issues, dementia, frailty, and chronic illnesses.

The space benefits patients who need a gentle route to exercise and those that feel anxious since the pandemic.

Ms Stansfield wants to promote sustainable eating, especially considering the increased demand for local food banks. There are aspirations to host educational sessions at the site. Adults and children will learn to focus on healthy eating, lifestyle choices, and cooking classes.

The allotment is a shared space for the whole community, and what was an old, derelict site is now a well-maintained and fruitful space. Donations from residents, including old plant pots, seeds, and volunteers, have helped to support the plot.

The local groups' work together shows how important it is to collaborate to solve problems in the community. Through social prescribing and a shared interest in healthy, sustainable food, the allotment serves as a space for physical and mental rejuvenation for the whole community.

Image by Jonathan Kemper via unsplash

Image by Jonathan Kemper via unsplash