In a recent report by The King’s Fund, the NHS has been urged to adopt gardening as a prescribed activity for patients who are suffering from mental health problems and dementia. The report, commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme, highlighted the importance of gardening as an effective method for recovering from and managing these conditions.

For a long while, many studies have shown that spending time in the garden can have a positive effect on your mental health. For example, according to a study by scientists from Essex and Westminster universities, published in the Journal for Public Health, just thirty minutes spent in the garden leads to an instant reduction in stress and fatigue, as well as a boost in self-esteem.

Gardening, as a hobby, even ticks many of the boxes for what the NHS themselves have deemed ‘stress busters’, including being active, having personal time, and avoiding unhealthy habits. Gardening is not only a great way of getting in some health-boosting exercise, but can also provide you with a sense of purpose and the immediate gratification that comes from planting up a vibrant border or clearing up some weeds. Growing fruit and veg can be especially helpful in improving health and wellbeing, as it can be incredibly fulfilling to grow your own food from seed.

The King’s Fund report recommends community garden schemes as especially effective as a course of treatment because they provide a framework for social interaction alongside the benefits that come from gardening alone. A healthy social life is another crucial element of improved wellbeing, and the sense of purpose that comes from working together with peers to achieve a common goal can be hugely important to those suffering from illnesses that can often lead to feelings of loneliness.

The report highlights the effectiveness of schemes like the Lambeth GP Food Co-op based in King’s College Hospital, where patients with long-term conditions work together to grow food, which is then used by the hospital to feed the other patients. This fosters a sense of community between these patients, as well as giving them the ability to help others in a difficult time of their lives, which can increase their wellbeing. Giving the patients a platform to get to know their fellow patients also promotes a sense of connection that can help them support each other in their recoveries.

For people suffering from dementia, just being near a garden can have a calming effect. The King’s Trust report cited a study in which it was found that there was a 19% reduction in violence from patients who were staying in sites that had a garden, while there was a large increase in violent behaviour in patients at sites that didn’t have a garden.

It is suggested that being in or just having a view of a garden can change the way that patients, staff, and visitors interact for the better, as well as help sufferers re-connect with a ‘time before dementia’. Spending time in a garden can appeal to the senses, especially touch and smell, and the access to natural light can keep their body clocks on schedule, improving sleeping patterns at night.

The recommendations of this report may come as no surprise to those who already have green fingers, who will be well acquainted with the health and wellbeing benefits that stem from spending time in the garden. What it does do, however, is put gardening firmly in the spotlight as a highly beneficial activity for those who suffer from common mental health problems, such as anxietystress, and depression. Hopefully, this will lead to more people taking up the activity of their own accord as a great way to boost their wellbeing.

No matter what state of health you’re in, the benefits of gardening are clear, so it’s a great idea to regularly get out into the garden if you don’t already. If you’re new to the hobby, there are plenty of ways that you can ease yourself into it; start with few hanging baskets or flower beds, or even just try your hand at some container gardening. Gardening can go a long way towards keeping you happy and healthy both now and in the future.

David Goose is Managing Director at horticultural specialist Mantis