Should gardening be available on the NHS?

A recent Royal Horticultural Society John MacLeod Lecture revealed the health benefits of gardening

Gardening is increasingly shown to have health benefitsA British doctor and a leading Swedish scientist have made the case for gardening and horticulture to be available on the NHS, during the third annual Royal Horticultural Society John MacLeod Lecture.

Speakers Dr William Bird and Dr Matilda Van Den Bosch spoke to an audience that included RHS Director General Sue Biggs and RHS members about the interactions between nature and human health, and how gardening may contribute to increased wellbeing and quality of life.

Dr Bird, who has 30 years’ experience as a GP, and Dr Van Den Bosch, who is a medical doctor, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agriculture, and World Health Organisation consultant, spoke at the RHS Lindley Hall on 13 November 2014.

Among the arguments the speakers put forward to support their assertion was that access to green spaces and gardens promote physical activity - and that when people undertake physical activity outdoors they are more likely to stick with it, and even work harder, than if they did the same activity indoors.

They also argued that contact with plants provides a sense of place, a way for humans to connect to their environment and their place in life, which is critical for mental wellbeing.

Speaking about the impact horticulture and gardening can have on health Dr Van Den Bosch said: “Apart from preventing diseases, horticulture and horticulture therapy are used to treat many conditions of ill-health, including cancer rehabilitation, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, and various behavioural disturbances.

“There is now enough evidence to include gardening and nature in the health care agenda. The key point is that gardening, plants and horticultural activities are excellent tools for creating a healthier society where the costs of health care and human suffering can be substantially reduced.”

Dr Bird was strident in his belief that the NHS could make considerable financial savings if horticulture therapy could be developed to the standard of other health interventions, he said: “We could see benefits of at least £5 health benefit for every £1 spent. Since about £60 billion is spent on long term conditions, 80% of which could be prevented by a healthier lifestyle, there is a significant incentive to develop a programme that includes horticulture.”

See a video interview on the health benefits of gardening on the health benefits of gardening with Dr Van Den Bosch and Dr Bird.

See more on the RHS John MacLeod Lectures.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.