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The amazing power of gardening for our mental health

Have you ever looked at a beautiful display of flowers and felt a rush of happiness? Or spent some quiet time in your garden and felt yourself gradually relaxing? Perhaps you’ve done some energetic garden tidying and felt refreshed and invigorated.

We can often instinctively sense the positive effect time in gardens and with nature has on us. And these personal experiences are backed by a growing body of scientific evidence.

Research into gardening and mental health

There have been studies conducted all over the world looking at how time in gardens and nature impact mental health.

Research carried out in Sweden found having access to a garden could help reduce stress. And it didn’t have to be a big garden. A simple balcony was enough.

The University of Exeter Medical School conducted a study on green spaces for mental health. They found that when people moved to a greener area (meaning more parks and gardens) they experienced an improvement in mental health. This positive improvement continued for at least 3 years after they moved to the greener place.

An article in Mental Health Review Journal took an umbrella look at a large body of research around gardening and mental health. It noted the many positive effects found, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

At our Thrive gardens, we use an approach called Social and therapeutic horticulture. This essentially means using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health. We conduct research from time to time with our client gardeners. Results from 317 people who came to table-top gardening sessions showed:

· 80% reported better mental health after attending

· 93% said their confidence and motivation improved

Biophilia – our innate connection to nature

The term biophilia translates from the Greek combination of bio (living things) plus philia (love of). It essentially describes our innate love of living things, which incorporates a love of nature.

Versions of this term and theory may have been around for a long time. It was examined in great detail in the 1984 book biophilia by renowned American biologist Edward O Wilson.

In recent years and decades, we have moved further away from nature through things like technological advancement. But events like the Covid pandemic helped remind people of the importance of green spaces and being outside.

Everyone responds to different aspects of nature. That may be a calming green space such as a forest or wild meadow, or a more formal garden space with plants that connect us to our childhood, such as the distinctive smell of tomatoes on the vine.

Tips for using gardens and nature to support mental health

Hopefully, you have the idea that time in gardens and nature can be a great support to mental health!

Here are some ideas to help you get the most from yours:

· We always recommend that the best thing to do is what you enjoy most! If you love the physical act of mowing, or the quieter task of deadheading, make time for those.

· Little and often is generally a good idea with gardening. It’s so easy to get carried away, but you may not feel so good if you are full of muscle aches and pains!

· Gardening is an amazing opportunity for continual learning. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re not an expert at something. Try it, see what happens and if necessary, make some changes next time. Gardens are very forgiving – apply the same kindness to yourself

· If you don’t have access to a garden, there is still lots you could do. You can grow houseplants, have herbs on windowsills, or do a piece of creative writing inspired by nature. You could also look for a local community garden to help in

If you are short of ideas, you can find a whole host on the Get gardening section of our Thrive website. This includes inspiration on gardening to support mental health.

Happy gardening!

About Thrive

Thrive is the gardening for health charity. For more than 40 years we have been using social and therapeutic horticulture to bring positive changes in the lives of those living with disabilities, ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged, or vulnerable.

We have three Thrive gardens in Reading, London and Birmingham. We also deliver a wide range of training courses, helping individuals and organisations to use STH. We share our information and advice freely via Get gardening to help individuals use gardening for health at home.

Team GIB met Thrive at the Gardening for Wellbeing Forum at RHS Wisley in May. With a shared ethos we got talking, and invited Thrive to write us a blog on Gardening for Wellbeing - hope you enjoy.

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