Can gardening for wildlife help our health and wellbeing?
Experience among those who practise wildlife-friendly gardening would suggest the answer is ‘yes’ and there is increasing evidence to back this up. Let’s look at why this might be.
Or, if you just want to get straight into feeling the benefits, jump to the sections below where you'll find some practical tips and excercises!
Biophilia and Nature Deficit Disorder
Humans (Homo sapiens) like all species have evolved with a long and close connection to the world in which they live. It is only in the last few decades (so very recent human history) that we have become more distanced from the natural world, the balance tipping towards urban living, where the built environment or ‘grey infrastructure’ dominates. What is referred to as the ‘biophilia theory’ proposes that humans have an innate affinity towards and need of the natural world. In short, we have a genetic predisposition towards nature.
When deprived of this connection – perhaps through spending too little time outdoors or in an environment where we don’t interact with nature - it can impact negatively on our health and wellbeing. This is referred to as Nature-Deficit Disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005 in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Two theories and the healing power of nature
Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) was developed by Roger Ulrich. In a well-cited study published in 1984 he found that patients in a hospital who could look out of a window onto a natural setting recovered faster from surgery, required less pain-relief and were nicer to their carers than patients whose windows looked onto a brick wall. In a later experiment subjects watched a stressful movie followed by a videotape depicting either a natural or urban setting. Encounters with unthreatening natural environments led to the best stress recovery. Just think, being able to simply see our gardens, spy greenery around a window or watch birds come to a window-feeder could help us recover from stress and tap into the healing power of nature during times of illness or being house-bound.
The second theory – Attention Restoration Theory (ART) – has become one of the most influential theories on the benefits of nature for health and wellbeing. In papers published in 1989 and 1995, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan developed a theory based on the restorative benefits of nature. Natural environments are considered rich in the elements needed for people to overcome mental fatigue with restorative experiences. The type of experiences which evoke a sense of ‘soft fascination’ – for example, watching a butterfly flap its wings or noting how the wind catches the leaves in the trees – brings you into the present, leaves room for thought and self-reflection. These responses are associated with restoring our capacity for what is called ‘directed attention’, meaning our ability to focus on something even if it not very captivating. So just by spending time in or looking at nature will help you feel mentally refreshed, improving your concentration and reducing stress and anxiety.