It’s official. Gardening is good for you. How do I know? Well apart from a lifetime’s gardening (and you could say that gardeners are biased) there is significant evidence from organised research that gardening is one of the best, and most accessible, ‘green care’ therapies for supporting and improving mental health.

The breakthrough in this research is because it shows that green therapies benefit everyone, not just people who like gardening and find it a good way to unwind. A 2016 report commissioned by Natural England concluded that ‘green care’ offers significant benefits to patients. These include a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress symptoms plus increased self-esteem and confidence, social contact and inclusion, as well as a sense of belonging and personal achievement.

The joy of using gardening to deliver these benefits is that it is so flexible, from the individual who enjoys gentle exercise, fresh air and sociable gardening conversation on their allotment to structured Social and Therapeutic Horticulture projects where qualified therapists support those with severe, long term mental health conditions. And there’s an increasing range of organisation and projects in between. Through Kent Adult Education I’ve worked with several including West Kent Mind at their Sevenoaks centre where a long-standing gardening group tends a vegetable and wildlife garden. This also allows participants to sit quietly for that crucial ten minutes becoming absorbed in a natural, green environment, reducing stress and restoring the ability to concentrate – another finding from the research.

You don’t even need a garden at home; allotment groups, community gardening projects, local park and garden volunteers all offer a way to start, or keep on, gardening. Engaging in social activities, learning from others and feeling that you’re contributing to the community are important in maintaining good mental health, especially for people who may otherwise become isolated and lose confidence, often the trigger for anxiety or depression.

And the end result of all that therapeutic gardening? A beautiful outside space, flowers for a vase and some of your five-a-day fruit and veg. However you look at it, gardens and gardening could be the simplest way for us all to support our wellbeing.

Alison Marsden lives near Tunbridge Wells and is a gardening advisor and tutor providing advice, problem solving, ideas and explanations to householders and gardening clubs. She has a strong interest in using gardening to promote mental well being and holds the Award in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture.

Further information

Alison tutors for Kent Adult Education who offer leisure and accredited courses for adults across the county.

West Kent Mind is affiliated to the national mental health charity Mind and delivers local mental health support to anyone in need of help.

The UK charity Thrive uses gardening to bring positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Thrive offers training and education including accredited courses in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture.

The report A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care, Bragg, R. and Atkins, G. 2016 was commissioned by Natural England Commissioned Reports, Number NECR204.

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