Prof Alistair Griffiths, The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Director of Science and Collections and co-author of RHS Your Wellbeing Garden: How to Make Your Garden Good for You book


The act of gardening helps us to keep fit and connect with others, to enjoy and be part of nature and to revel in colour, aroma, wildlife and beauty. Simply contemplating nature helps to rest and recharge our brains. Aside from cultivating beautiful plants that delight our senses, we can also grow food and even cures for minor ailments in our gardens.


There is an increasing body of scientific evidence that a regular dose of gardening can improve public health. This is evidenced throughout the world. Numerous studies throughout the world, including the UK now provide robust evidence for the positive physical, mental and social effects of gardening on health. There are very few, if any, other activities that can achieve all of the things that gardening can – in particular, the measurable impact on active lifestyles and mental wellbeing. The King’s Fund published on behalf of the National Gardening Scheme the Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice report which provides a good resource as does a paper on Gardening is beneficial for health – a meta-analysis.


A regular dose of gardening can provide a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, improved physical activity, as well as increases in life satisfaction and quality of life. Gardening has been shown to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and perceived stress by promoting neuroendocrine and affective restoration. An RHS study showed that a few containers put into grey streets in Salford reduced perceived stress by 6%- equivalent to eight mindfulness sessions and increased healthy cortisol patterns from 24% to 53% of the people. Another study indicates that gardening improves cell aging profiles.


Calorie calculators from various sources suggest that garden work burns around 250 – 500 calories per hour and physical exercise during gardening is sufficient to trigger complex activity within our brains which releases chemicals that not only help us to feel good, but also helps to protect and improve cognitive function and behaviour. A study with 370,000 UK women showed that gardening reduced the risks of fractures of their upper and lower limbs.

Findings from research found that private gardens were rated as more restorative than other private spaces. A study estimates that the weekly use of a domestic garden is worth between £171 and £575 per person, in terms of its physical and mental health benefits. Aggregating this estimate across the UK’s gardeners suggests national health and wellbeing benefits are worth between £4.1 billion and £13.8 billion


A healthy diet through Growing Your Own to provide plants packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals (plant chemicals), but low in fat and calories. This makes them vital for a healthy diet, lowering risk of cancers and heart disease. Indeed, growing crops in your own garden can help boost health giving phytochemicals in your plot. How you select, grow, harvest, store, and cook your fruit and vegetables also has an effect on their nutritional value.


Gardening is also a great source of Vitamin D. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors, therefore most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight whilst gardening. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.



Many more people have found gardening to help with their mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown and more doctors and health professionals are increasingly prescribing gardening, as part of the social prescribing movement. A recent collaborative Salford University and Royal Horticultural Society social prescription study at the therapeutic garden, RHS Bridgewater Garden proved successful. 


Cultivated plants, gardens and gardening, be it indoors or out, a single house plant or a small patch of land are not just nice to have but essential in providing preventative nature-based health care for us as a species. Get Gardening!


Key References:

Ambrose, G., Das, K., Fan, Y. & Ramaswami, A. (2020). Is gardening associated with 648 greater happiness of urban residents? A multi-activity, dynamic assessment in the Twin-649 Cities region, USA. Landscape and Urban Planning, 198,103776. 650


Armstrong et al., (2020). The Associations between Seven Different Types of Physical Activity and the Incidence of Fracture at Seven Sites in Healthy Postmenopausal UK Women. J Bone Miner Res. 2020 Feb;35 (2):277-290. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.


Beavers, A. W., Atkinson, A. & Alaimo, K. (2020). How gardening and a gardener support 660 program in Detroit influence participants’ diet, food security, and food values. Journal 661 of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 15(2), 149–169. 662


Breuste, J. H. & Artmann, M. (2015). Allotment gardens contribute to urban ecosystem 683 service: Case study Salzburg, Austria. Journal of Urban Planning and Development, 684 141(3), 1–10.


Buck, D. (2016). Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice. Technical report. London: The King’s Fund, commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme.


Brindley, P., Jorgensen, A., & Maheswaran, R. (2018). Domestic gardens and self-reported  health: a national population study. International Journal of Health Geographics, 17, 31.


Cervinka, R., Schwab, M., Schönbauer, R., Hämmerle, I., Pirgie, L. & Sudkamp, J. (2016). My garden - my mate? Perceived restorativeness of private gardens and its predictors. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 16, 182–187.


Chalmin-Pui, L. S., Griffiths, A., Roe, J. J. & Cameron, R. W. F. (2019). Bringing fronts 715 back: A research agenda to investigate the health and well-being impacts of front 716 gardens. Challenges, 10(37). 717


Chalmin-Pui, L.S., Roe, J., Griffiths, A., Smyth, N., Heaton, T., Clayden, A. & Cameron, R., 718 2020. “It made me feel brighter in myself”-The health and well-being impacts of a 719 residential front garden horticultural intervention. Landscape and Urban Planning, 205. 720 103958. ISSN 0169-2046 721


Chang, C., Oh, R. R. Y., Nghiem, T. P.Griffiths, A., Keightly, M., Gatti, A. and Allaway, Z. (2020). RHS Your Wellbeing Garden: How to Make Your Garden Good for You – Science, Design, Practice. DK, London

Kingsley, J. Y., Townsend, M., & Henderson-Wilson, C. (2009). Cultivating health and wellbeing: member's perceptions of the health benefits of a port Melbourne community garden. Leisure Studies, 28, 207-219.


de Bell, S., White, M., Griffiths, A., Darlow, A., Taylor, T., Wheeler, B. & Lovell, R. (2020). 735 Spending time in the garden is positively associated with health and wellbeing: Results 736 from a national survey in England. Landscape and Urban Planning. 737


De Rui M, Toffanello ED, Veronese N, Zambon S, Bolzetta F, et al. (2014) Vitamin D Deficiency and Leisure Time Activities in the Elderly: Are All Pastimes the Same? PLoS ONE 9(4): e94805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094805


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Howarth, ML, Griffiths, A, da Silva, A and Green, R 2020, 'Social prescribing : a ‘natural’ community-based solution' , British Journal of Community Nursing, 25 (6) , pp. 294-298.


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Machida, D. (2019). Relationship between community or home gardening and health of the 820 elderly: A web-based cross-sectional survey in Japan. International Journal of 821 Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(8), 1389. 822


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Susana Mourato et al. 2010. "Economic analysis of cultural services" (UK NEA Economic Analysis Executive Summary), 26. The range reflects variations in monetary estimates for the value of a healthy year of life (quality-adjusted life year, or QALY)


van Den Berg, A.E. and Custers, M.H.G. (2011).“Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and  affective restoration from stress”. Journal of Health Psychology, 16(1), 3–11.


Wang, D. & MacMillan, T. (2013). The benefits of gardening for older adults: A systematic 928 review of the literature. Activities, Adaptation and Aging, 37(2), 153–181. 929


Ward Thompson, C., Roe, J.J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clow, A. and Miller, D. (2012). “More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns”. Landscape and Urban Planning, 105(3), 221–229.


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Zick, C. D., K. R. Smith, L. Kowaleski-Jones, C. Uno, and B. Merrill (2013) Harvesting more than vegetables: The potential weight control benefits of community gardening. American Journal of Public Health, 103(6), 1110-1115


Connect with Alistair;

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