Why gardening is good for your mental health post-pandemic

Becky Banham
By Becky Banham,
updated on Apr 27, 2021

Why gardening is good for your mental health post-pandemic

After a year in and out of lockdown (spent mostly sterilising and keeping our hands clean), now’s the time to get your hands dirty

Over the last year, many of us have come to rely on our gardens and local green spaces more than ever. After periods of social restrictions, we’ve rediscovered the importance of connecting with nature for our mental and physical wellbeing.

It’s been a privilege to get outside into the fresh air - something I hope we remember over the coming months, as normality resumes. And this is something that’s been echoed in a new study published in the journal Cities, which adds to existing evidence that gardening is good for us.

The study of more than 6,000 UK residents found that people who garden frequently (at least two or three times a week) felt less stress and an increased sense of wellbeing. People who garden every day had wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than those who do not garden at all.

This new research, conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and the University of Virginia, has been released during National Gardening Week to encourage the nation to get their daily dose of ‘Vitamin G’.

The outdoor hobby has been shown to boost mental health, with those with health problems stating that gardening eased episodes of depression (13%), boosted energy levels (12%) and reduced stress (16%).

The study also found that gardening was linked with greater physical activity. The results were comparable to that of daily exercise, supporting the idea that gardening is good for both body and mind.

And, after a year of sterilising everything in sight, there’s another important benefit of getting our hands dirty. “Getting our hands in the earth may be an important ingredient for maintaining our health,” Sue Stuart-Smith, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of The Well Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World, told The Times.

“The neuroscientist Christopher Lowry discovered that a bacterium commonly found in soil can boost serotonin levels in the brain. Not only that, but other studies show that the ‘friendly’ bacteria that live in the soil might boost our immune systems; a single teaspoon of garden soil contains something in the region of a billion microbes.”

What are the physical benefits of gardening?

Of course, improving health isn’t the typical motivator for most gardeners. However, it’s a very common byproduct that comes with the effort put in.

RHS wellbeing fellow and lead author of the study Dr Lauriane Chalmin-Pui said, “Gardening is like effortless exercise because it doesn't feel as strenuous as going to the gym, for example, but we can expend similar amounts of energy.

“Most people say they garden for pleasure and enjoyment, so the likelihood of getting hooked to gardening is also high.”

And, if you can grow your own produce in a vegetable patch or by growing fruit trees, this can have a positive impact on your diet. As nutritional therapist Lowri Turner explains, eating with the seasons can not only improve your relationship with food but can also help to balance your energy.

“Foods grown and eaten out of season may have been artificially enhanced (pesticides or fertilisers) to bring on ripening,” she says. “If they have been grown a long way away, they may have been processed to extend shelf life (preservatives).”

Where possible, she recommends growing your own. “You don’t need acres of land. Herbs can be grown in a pot on a windowsill.”

If you’re interested in the physical health benefits of gardening, try:

Why is gardening good for our mental health?

The use of gardening as therapy isn’t anything new. Many of us already know about or have come to discover the pleasures of horticultural therapy during lockdown.

Previous studies have pointed to boosts in serotonin in the brain from being outside as well as the light exercise that gardening provides. Other research has shown that repetitive chores such as weeding and watering can induce a meditative-like state.

If you’d like to know more about the mental health benefits of gardening, give these a read:

Resources to help you get your daily dose of Vitamin G

Whether you’re new to gardening or class yourself as green-fingered, there’s always more to learn! Try these resources to help you create the garden of your dreams:

  • 5 flowers for a bee-friendly garden - How to create some honeybee hotspots this summer, when bees’ food supply is most stretched.
  • Happiful’s gardening guide - Download our free guide to the plants that you can nurture in your garden to help support British wildlife. There are also tips on the small things that we can do to make our natural spaces more accessible to all creatures, great and small.

And, of course, if you haven’t got a garden of your own, there are still ways you can benefit from the power of caring for Mother Nature. Looking after house plants (or office plants) has wellness boosting effects, and taking on an allotment can be fruitful for your mental health, too.

With all these benefits, it’s clear that gardening is an incredible all-around mood booster. So, if you're looking for a new hobby to keep you grounded as lockdown restrictions ease, we encourage you to give gardening a go.

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