Professor Alistair Griffiths explains why a seismic shift in attitudes is occuring as ever-more evidence shows how important gardens and plants are for our physical, mental, and social wellbeing
A gardening green revolution has started – with increasing scientific evidence highlighting the critical importance of garden plants, gardens and gardening benefiting our physical, mental, and social wellbeing. There are very few, if any, other activities that can achieve all of the things that horticulture and gardening can – in particular, the measurable beneficial impacts on active lifestyles, mental wellbeing, and social interaction.
The act of gardening helps us to keep fit and connect with others, to enjoy and be part of nature and to revel in colour, aroma, wildlife and beauty. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains. Aside from cultivating beautiful plants that delight our senses, we can also grow food and even cures for minor ailments in our gardens.
Gardens and plants also improve our environment, protecting us from noise and particulate pollution, as well as cool us in extremes of temperature and help mitigate against flooding linked to a changing climate.
In 2015, the RHS Science Strategy and the RHS John McLeod Lecture by Dr William Bird and Dr Matilda van den Bosch titled Health Benefits of Gardening highlighted the urgent need to undertake scientific research on the role of gardening and wellbeing.
In 2016, the Ornamental Roundtable Health and Horticulture conference held at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show brought together 150 key stakeholders from public health, science, and horticulture with policymakers from the government for the first time. The conference attendees drafted a Health & Horticulture Charter Framework, which called for bringing together and sharing the existing published evidence base demonstrating the benefits of gardening and health.
In that same year the King’s Fund published the Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice report, which further highlighted the need for a priority programme of evidence collation and dissemination, supported by a further programme of research.
The RHS Science Team has over the last five years, in collaboration with universities in the UK and USA, been collating current scientific evidence on gardening and health, and is undertaking new scientific research. This research will continue to be a key area of focus at the new RHS National Centre for Horticultural Science and Learning at RHS Garden Wisley with its surrounding wellbeing gardens providing living laboratories for experimentation.
Studies will examine how garden design elements and cultivated plants influence sensory experiences, affective responses and wellbeing in gardens. We will use different methods to conduct field and lab studies. This will include studying and mapping sensory and affective responses such as colour and scent with RHS visitors, communities and schools as well as testing emotional responses to the “rooms of emotion” created in the new wellbeing garden. Findings from this research will add new knowledge towards creating a garden design ‘blueprint’ for optimal human emotional wellbeing.
Anyone who would like to know how to put all this into practice can delve into my new book RHS Your Wellbeing Garden: How to Make Your Garden Good for You.
I have collaborated with award-winning garden designer Matt Keightley to pool our expertise in what we hope will be an inspiring, practical book supported by the latest scientific research on gardens and wellbeing.
This book uniquely explains why green spaces are good for you and shows how to use that knowledge to optimise your outdoor space. Monies from this book help support the RHS as a charity to undertake further research on gardening and wellbeing.
- Thrive helps the isolated, disadvantaged, and disabled through gardening.
- Social Farms & Gardens helps communities establish farms and gardens.
- The Green Care Coalition promotes high-quality and cost-effective green care services. Its vision is that green care becomes widely recognized as an effective option in health and social care.
- Horatio’s Garden creates and cares for accessible gardens in NHS spinal injury centres.
- The National Garden Scheme raises money to support nursing and health charities.
Further reading and resources
See our list of further reading and research on gardening, health and wellbeing