The Health Benefits of Gardening

I read the other day that one of the largest studies ever conducted on gardening which was funded by Innovate UK and the National Institute for Health Research had concluded that 'people who spent time in the garden report better physical and mental health levels than those who do not'

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Not a surprise I thought! Without knowing every detail of the study, I along with all of you who have spent time in our gardens know just how therapeutic pottering about in them is. Growing plants, or just admiring them in all their forms transports us (albeit briefly) away from the concerns and stresses of modern life.

Many years ago when I first started out on my horticultural career (late 1970s) relatively little was spoken or acknowledged of the health benefits of gardening, at least in municipal park circles! And yet historical evidence exists that 14th Century Irish Monks treated ‘troubled fellows’ with gardening activities, and during the Victorian period hospitals (more often asylums) thought that gardening or agricultural work was good for their patients.

In the 1990s I first worked in Horticultural Therapy helping adults with moderate to severe learning difficulties to discover the wonderful world of gardening, growing vegetables on a small organic farm in Yorkshire. It has never failed to impress me just how much everyone got out of the days spent weeding between rows of carrots or cabbages, or learning to prick out seedlings – certainly days spent outside in the fresh air was a relief from being cooped up in Day Centres, and Social Services at that time realised how much happier their clients were on the days spent with us! Soon a handful of clients grew and grew and I am happy to report that that small organic farm near York has burgeoned into a major horticultural charity full of plants for sale and smiling faces.

Even in the most challenging of circumstances horticulture continues to provide health benefits to those returning from wars, or those with harrowing personal stories to relate. I worked briefly helping the long term unemployed on a city farm in South London teaching City and Guilds Horticulture. All those I taught had suffered from the effects of long periods without work, or a proper place to live. All without exception found the City Farm beneficial, and I hope it helped them grow in confidence.

It really doesn’t matter the scale on which we garden, or whether we consider ourselves gardeners at all, the more time spent admiring, cultivating, or perhaps talking to plants (I’m not one for that myself, though if you do it may help, I just haven’t tried it), the better. Apart from the obvious benefits of physical activity, the calming effects of gardening seem obvious too.

I literally had to smile the other day on finding on my bookshelves the other day a book entitled ‘The Happy Gardener’ by my namesake H. L. V. Fletcher, and dedicated to none other than David Fletcher!

Happy gardening

David Fletcher MCIHort

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