Gardens and health: it’s time for health policy to bring gardens in from the cold

2013 report on the evidence surrounding how local authorities can make the most out of their existing functions to improve the Health of their citizens, including green space and its connection to public Health.

I was initially skeptical about the relationship between green spaces and Health. I thought that, especially in urban areas, the observed correlation between more green space access and health was driven by the fact that more wealthy people lived nearer green spaces than less-wealthy individuals and that the more affluent people are, the healthier they tend to be. Our 2013 report began to dispel my skepticism.

The National Gardens Scheme commissioned me to do a more thorough exploration of the diverse and many relationships between gardens, gardening, and Health. Today, I am publishing the results of this work in an independent editorial report.

Recently, several high-quality systematic reviews on specific aspects of gardening have been published. These reviews highlight the positive impact of gardening in terms of Health. Gardening and Health gathers for the first time a vast amount of evidence about gardens and their Health. It also organizes it across life stages, from school gardening to parks in family homes and gardening by older people. The report examines the role of gardening in promoting mental Health, combating social isolation, and maintaining independence. There are few randomized controlled studies on the health benefits of gardening. However, there is a large amount of qualitative and quantitative evidence that gardening and access to gardens can improve our Health and well-being. This figure, taken from the report, reflects the various ways this can occur.

There are many examples of gardens and gardening being used in health care, such as social prescribing and community gardens. Other areas include volunteering, recovering from illness, dementia, and end-of-life care. Lambeth’s GP Food Cooperative is an example of a cooperative that combines patients, doctors, and nurses with people from Lambeth to create a network for food growing. The Co-op built gardens in 11 GP practices and other locations, including King’s College Hospital. Patients (especially those who have long-term health conditions) can learn how to grow their food. The Co-op is so successful that it sells some food grown at King’s College Hospital. This completes a virtuous cycle where NHS patients help provide good-quality food for other NHS patients.

The report concludes with reflections and a “menu” of recommendations that show how gardens and gardening benefits can be reflected in health and care policies and practices at both the local and national levels. The menu is wide-ranging because we understand that different areas of the system will focus on other issues. It’s also because gardening is relevant to many initiatives that support the NHS Five Year Forward View and the wider shift to a population-based health system.

This report aims to bring gardening into the mainstream of healthcare policy and practice.

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