In May 2016 the Kings Fund published a report, ‘Gardens and health Implications for policy and practice’. This report was commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme. This report looks at the impact of gardens and gardening on health and wellbeing, and explores what the NHS and the wider health and social care system can do to maximise this impact. Further it sets out the evidence base on how gardens and gardening relate to health.
Summary Findings include:
Increasing people’s exposure to, and use of, green spaces has been linked to long-term reductions in overall reported health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions); it has also been linked to reduced levels of obesity and high physical activity, and higher self-rated mental health.
Living in areas with green spaces also seems to weaken the effect of income inequalities on health. Gardens can provide other important environmental functions, such as reducing flood risk and moderating climate and pollution, which have knock-on benefits for health.
Well-designed studies of school gardening suggest that children’s fruit and vegetable intake can be significantly increased combined with efforts to improve parental support; a further range of studies points to increased knowledge, and preferences for fruit and vegetables
Teachers report positive wellbeing effects, personal achievement and pride in ‘growing’ and, where volunteers are involved, gardening can be a way to break down social boundaries inherent in academic settings
For children with learning difficulties or behavioural problems, gardening as a non-academic task and the garden as a place of peace and meditation are particularly valuable.
In well-designed studies, allotment gardening has been found to improve mood, self-esteem and physiological measures such as cortisol (associated with acute stress) compared with matched controls.
The mental health benefits of gardening are broad and diverse. Studies have shown significant reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social functioning and wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development.
There is emerging evidence that gardening may also be important in falls prevention (helping to maintain good gait and balance) and also in dementia prevention and cognitive decline.
Directors of public health, health and wellbeing boards and local government should use the evidence in this report to support and develop their public health plans and actions.
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) should include gardening as one of many opportunities for patients in social prescribing projects, and together with other stakeholders (including the third sector and local councils) explore the case for reciprocal gardening schemes in their localities.
The role of gardens and gardening in supporting health should be considered as part of place-based population health systems, particularly as local approaches to public services devolution and NHS sustainability and transformation plans mature over time.
The Local Government Association should work with partners to ensure the sustainability and therefore continued health benefits of high-quality public gardens.
This is a welcome report, that brings together different strands of evidence whilst making important practical and strategic recommendations for all those involved in health.