The King’s Fund is an independent charity, working to improve health and care in England, with the vision of making the best possible care available to all. Alongside the National Gardens Scheme, they commissioned a report to assess the health benefits that gardening, and gardens, bestow onto individuals and organisations. The report shows how gardens and gardening can have a huge impact on our lives, keeping us well and independent, throughout the course of life.
The report begins by explaining that defining the concept of what constitutes a garden is no easy feat, and that the term can be used broadly to describe spaces that are either intimate and small, vast and expansive, or even those which span across hundreds of acres. These areas may also be private, communal, or public in terms of ownership, access, and maintenance.
Gardens also serve various purposes: they are a habitat for growing food, crops, and flowers; a sanctuary for rest and relaxation; a place to play and to exercise, to meet, to socialise and to work. On top of this, they can provide a contribution to wider environmental, planning, and sustainability policies and projects. In this instance, the focus of the message from The King’s Fund is positioned on the garden of today, the act of gardening, and the impact on our health and wellbeing.
Around 87 percent of UK households have their own garden, and it is estimated that private gardens could cover an area about the size of one-fifth of Wales. As a pastime, a geographical, and an economic and social phenomenon, gardening holds extreme importance – about half of the adult population in England claim to be involved in gardening.
In fact, the most recent statistics (April 2013 – March 2014) on how adults spend their free time shows that 49.5 percent reported gardening as an activity. This is, as expected, far less than watching television (90.4 percent) but miles ahead of playing a musical instrument (10.4 percent). Visits to historic or natural sites, and gardens (40.2 percent) and taking ‘days out’ (68.7 percent) also sit high on our agendas.
A deeper delve into these statistics reveals that while there is very little difference in gardening levels between the sexes, there are some distinct differences between age groups. The younger population (under 24s) do not typically participate in gardening, but this figure sharply rises through the age ranges. Around 40 percent of 25-44 year olds partake in gardening, this peaks at 70 percent for 65-74 year olds, and then declines to around 60 percent for those who are aged 75 and above. Taking ‘days out’ or visits to historic places (including gardens) follows a similar trend (though at a lower level).
The impact of gardens on our health
The report gives a nod to the notion that exposure to, and utilisation of, green spaces is associated to a long-term reduction in the overall reporting of a wide array of health problems (including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions). A link is also recognised between the role of gardens and gardening in reducing levels of obesity, depression, and anxiety, and an improvement in social functioning and vocational development.
Whatsmore, looking at gardening as a lifetime hobby reveals a number of convincing examples whereby gardens and gardening positively correlate with a very broad spectrum of well being, physical and health outcomes, influencing traits of confidence, self-esteem and resilience – all of which contribute to good health.
The evidence shows that gardens and gardening are particularly important as we age in terms of defining ‘who we are’ at a time where other activities decline and we tend to become more dependent on health services and social care. Gardens appear to play a vital role in helping to keep us physically and socially active in older age, and may also help to prevent falls and form a key component of dementia care.
Overall, the report paints an important and interesting picture of how gardening interventions can support health and wellbeing throughout the course of life, and how gardens and gardening can have a meaningful place in the health and care system for generations to come.