It reduces stress, helps you heal faster and transports you to a meditative state. Here’s why you need to discover the mind-blowing health benefits of gardening
It’s no secret that nature is good for our wellbeing. But you don’t need to take a trip to the countryside to feel the benefits. Filling our homes and offices with plants can help us reap the health rewards, and the word is starting to spread. In a recent survey by member’s club Arboretum, 17 million Brits said they feel like better thinkers, workers and creators when they are near plants, and 53 percent said plants make them happier and positively impact their mental health and wellbeing.
Those immersed in the gardening world professionally have of course known this for years. Renowned garden designer, Jo Thompson (jothompson-garden-design.co.uk), who is celebrating her 10th year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, says her work gives her a mental health boost: “Time spent outdoors, surrounded by plants, is an utter joy.” “If there’s ever anything troubling me, after only a short space of time in a garden, I feel my mood shift and my equilibrium return,” she explains. “No matter what stress I may be dealing with, I feel immeasurably better when I’m outside, surrounded by nature.
“Gardens call to all of your senses and have an effortless ability to bring you into the present moment – either through the scent of a freshly mowed grass or, because of the attention required when wrestling with an unruly climbing rose – troubles fade and, for me, new ideas blossom.”
And the gardening world is keen to attract more people to what it can offer via its mental health benefits. RHS Chatsworth Flower Show (5-9th June, rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chatsworth-flower-show) has this year launched a brand new show garden category focusing on mindfulness, with five designs set to highlight the benefits of gardening to help people embrace living in the present moment.
“We know for sure that plants and gardening are vital for our mental health – there’s nothing quite like interacting with nature to relax and help ease the mind,” says Sue Biggs, RHS Director General of the Royal Horticultural Society. “With gardening, simply focusing on the task in hand, be it weeding, pruning or planting, can have an astoundingly positive effect on your mood. Ninety percent of us say we feel better just by being around plants. Evidence continues to stack up around the positive impact gardening and access to green space has on our mental health.”
For someone living with dementia, taking part in gardening can have a profound impact on their quality of life, allowing them to create social connections, reminisce and explore their senses. “As we age, it is common for our senses to diminish,” says Ben Atkinson-Willes, founder of non-profit organisation Active Minds (active-minds.org/uk/). “It is therefore important to provide someone living with dementia a variety of activities which explore different senses. Gardens are excellent for multi-sensory stimulation and can provide numerous benefits for those living with dementia.
“The scent of a familiar flower can transport someone back to a memory of the past, the colours of the plants and other flora, partnered with the sounds of wildlife, and the ability to touch petals and grasses, can all help aid relaxation and be a perfect environment for dementia activities.
“Numerous studies have shown the benefits of exposure to sensory gardens for people living with dementia, as they assist in reducing stress and help to improve attention.”
Paula Ralph (paularalph.com) is a surgery coach who helps to prepare people for operations so that they heal faster than expected, and she says that being around plants can do this. “How I incorporate this into my work is through the mind-body connection,” she says. “I always recommend that my clients raise their chins and notice what they see – from blossoms on trees, to cloud shapes and even buildings they may have never seen.
“If there’s an opportunity to sit in nature somehow, be it their own garden, or to walk by the sea or a river, the sense of wellbeing is greatly enhanced. I ask them to use their senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And then to come into their breath.
“Whether the feeling is peacefulness or awe – maybe sparked by the beauty of trees and flowers, a well-clipped lawn, or wild flowers, the person’s breathing begins to change. When a breath is deeper and slower, the nervous system is affected and they are put into a state of peace, rest and repose. It’s the opposite of fight or flight – the classic stress response.”
Paula is also a pharmacist of 30 years, so has a good scientific understanding of the healing process, and how plants play a part. “It’s called the biophilia hypothesis, the idea that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems,” she explains. “In 1984, Roger Ulrich pioneered a small study of 46 patients that had a gallbladder operation. Half of them recovered in a hospital room that had a view of nature – trees, water, sky, and lots of light. The other half recovered in a regular ward with no view of anything apart from other people on the ward and maybe an adjacent building wall.
“The people in the room with a view of nature showed a strong correlation with reduced stress and faster recovery rate. They asked for less pain relief, had fewer notes recorded from the nurses regarding comfort and were released on average a day earlier.” This has great implications not only for the patients themselves, but for our over-stretched hospitals which struggle to find enough beds.
So, whether you immerse yourself for hours in an allotment, tend to window boxes or enjoy indoor foliage, it’s safe to say, the power of plants is pretty phenomenal for your health! What are you waiting for? Get yourself a slice of nature and your body and mind will thank you for it.
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