Mental health help by gardening
Labour weekend traditionally triggers Kiwi gardening fever
and throughout New Zealand garden centres are standing by to
welcome people in. This weekend Gardening New Zealand is promoting the
mental health benefits of gardening.
A 2014 Netherlands study found that 30 minutes gardening relieved stress more effectively than 30 minutes reading. And this showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A 2016 UK, Australia and Japanese study showed 30 minutes once a week to be the minimum time required in nature for health and well-being.
Auckland University of Technology PHD student and lecturer, Gayle Souter-Brown set out to discover what kind of nature is required for greater mental well-being. She conducted a randomised controlled trial of 168 people where one group spent half-an-hour per week in a sensory garden and the another in a formally planted outdoor plaza, with a control group. Participants kept diaries, were interviewed about their experiences and were tested for cortisol levels. She found a relationship between ecologically rich green space, reduced stress levels and improved wellbeing.
Ms Souter-Brown says, “Simply put, the organic garden,
with birds, butterflies, and healthy soils, was more
effective at reducing stress than an orderly, planted
courtyard-style space. It also significantly improved
well-being and work output.
“For mental health, trees, water, a sense of discovery, seating options and some sunshine are the elements we need in our gardens.”
Another study on the use of therapeutic horticulture for patients with clinical depression sought to understand why gardening programs were effective in lessening patient experience of depression. They found that structured gardening activities gave patients existential purpose. Put simply, it gave their lives meaning.
Zealand spokesperson Debbie Pascoe says there is plenty of
research worldwide showing that gardening brings therapeutic
“Whether it’s seeing seedlings emerge from the soil, a flower opening, or that lovely feeling of physical work and fresh air, there’s no doubt gardening is a tonic that’s beneficial for us all,” Ms Pascoe said.
“The pleasure gained from caring for plants
and watching them grow can be huge for all age groups and
walks of life. It’s a chance to express our creative side.
Gardening is one of the rarest things because no matter what
you do, you can never be ‘wrong’, there’s no such
thing as failing,” she said.