How Gardening Is The Best Therapy!

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

Worldwide gardening is one of the main pastimes that people interact with nature. So what makes gardens so therapeutic?

Sol planting a lettuce in the garden

We live in beautiful Golden Bay surrounded by green space of farm land, reserves and two National parks. In cities people have less natural environments, which is why parks and gardens especially are so appreciated by many. Worldwide gardening is one of the main pastimes that people interact with nature. So what makes gardens so therapeutic?


Gardening enhances our physical health

Gardening is a physical activity and we all know that exercising, even a little regularly is good for our health. Have you ever tried double digging a 100 square metre vegetable garden, then adding compost and minerals? Now that’s exercise! This is not everyone's cup of tea so we develop techniques that fit our different physical abilities.


Having worked with children at Motupipi School for years I have seen the benefits of gardening in developing hand to eye coordination (eg pricking out seedlings), concentration (eg planting) and strength (moving compost and mulch by wheelbarrow).

Growing food from seed to crop whether flower, fruit or vegetable is a very satisfying thing. Eating fresh produce straight from the garden is very nutritious for the body too.


Have you ever tried double digging a 100 square metre vegetable garden, then adding compost and minerals? Now that’s exercise!

Gardening helps us relax, get present and in a better mood

In our busy lives making ends meet, looking after the kids and paying the bills getting relief isn’t always done in the healthiest way. The barrage of excessive positive ions from cell phones, computers and TV also doesn’t help our mood.


In contrast when I get a chance to go tramping in native bush, take a walk on the beach or do some gardening I always feel better. This can be partly attributed to getting a good dose of negative ions (anions). Research shows that negatively charged ions are found most in natural places and particularly around moving water. Negative ions attach to pathogens rendering them harmless. Air that’s charged full anions when breathed in has shown to reduce stress levels, create a positive mood, and increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin (which helps reduce feelings of depression and lethargy). This is also a reason why a shower in the morning makes us feel better.


Other research suggests that just taking time out from our busy lives to garden helps bring mindfulness. Hilda Burke, a UK Psychotherapist, says that gardening is an activity that seems to help a lot of people get into a "flow" state. This means that you don't notice the time passing, aren't simultaneously thinking over other things, making plans or rehashing the past. As such it helps people both to switch off to other stuff and switch on to the present moment. In other words, to be more mindful. The old saying comes to mind “don’t forget to smell the flowers”.


Scientists have also recently discovered that soil is actually an antidepressant!


Scientists have also recently discovered that soil is actually an antidepressant. A British study looked at how mice exposed to 'friendly' bacteria normally found in soil, altered their behaviour in a similar way to that produced by an antidepressant. They found that the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae activated a group of neurons that produce serotonin, which regulates mood. Getting your hands dirty and inhaling these bacteriums actually improve your mood and overall mental health. This is a good reason for encouraging children to play in the garden too.


Horticultural Therapy

In the 1940-50’s horticultural therapy took off with rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational, and community settings.

"For the large number of people in our society, children and adults, who live with challenging physical or mental health problems, gardening and community food growing can be especially beneficial. Such activities can relieve the symptoms of serious illnesses, prevent the development of some conditions, and introduce people to a way of life that can help them to improve their well-being in the longer term. And even if you are feeling fine, gardening is… well, just a very nice thing to do”, says Professor Tim Lang, Centre for Food Policy at City University London.


Local Food Resilience

Fumiko Green from Rangiheata practiced Horticultural Therapy in Japan and New Zealand. She found it very rewarding working with people with autism, downs-syndrome and the elderly. “Apart from the obvious benefits of gardening I often found they just needed someone to talk and socialize with”, says Fumiko. Working alongside those less-abled with plants gave them a sense of responsibility. “When they had something to look after they were motivated to care for it”, explained Fumiko. In New Zealand Fumiko worked at Hohepa in Christchurch with more less-abled people who had an amazing productive system growing food for locals.


Building Confidence With A Living Skills Programme

Laurence Boomert has run the Living Skills Programme for the Department of Corrections at the Community Gardens. This involved landscaping, skills development, growing food, cooking and budgeting. “Many of the participants were surprised that they could be involved in producing their own food and got a real sense of accomplishment out of it.” says Laurence.


Local legend Gay Dodson deserves an accolade for her years of caring work for IDEA Services with Harry Saarl doing gardening. As mentioned at her memorial service in July 2018 Gay's work with Harry enriched his life significantly.


These are just some of the reasons that gardening can help us stay healthy and support our well being no matter our circumstance.


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