Get green fingers for health and happiness
Sarah reports on a new initiative by the National Gardens Scheme…
Every year come spring, garden lovers (like Jo and me) look forward to happy hours leafing through the National Gardens Scheme Yellow Book – the bible that lists over 3,500 private gardens the length and breadth England and Wales, which fling open their gates to visitors. What’s less well known about the NGS is that championing the health benefits of gardens has been at the heart of its ethos since it started in 1927.
This year for the first time, that relationship is formalised in the NHS campaign ‘A Path to Health’, which launches now at the beginning of the third annual Gardens and Health Week. The NGS campaign helps to implement NHS England’s commitment to social prescribing where patients are linked with non-medical activities in their local community with the aim of improving their wellbeing, both in body and mind.
Gardening is recognised as one of the key resources in social prescribing. In 2016, the NGS funded a Kings Fund report – called simply ‘Gardens and Health’ – which set out the evidence for the multiple physical, mental and psychological benefits of gardening and access to green spaces. And in these days of desk-bound jobs, where sitting all day is recognised as posing a health risk comparable to smoking, we can’t think of anything better than getting out in the fresh air and digging, planting and growing everything from flowers to fruit and vegetables.
Professor Sam Everington, one of the GPs who trailblazed the concept of social prescribing at the Bromley by Bow primary care centre, is a huge fan. Coming in from the noisy main road where lorries thunder along, you walk into a tranquil green space. I walked round with him, as he showed me a herb garden and flower garden, raised beds for people in wheelchairs, even a mound so children can play King of the Castle.
‘Gardening ticks so many boxes,’ says Professor Everington, ‘and it’s accessible to all of us whether you tend a house plant or a window box, grow food in an allotment, plant up your back garden or join in with a community orchard. It provides purpose, hope, routine and rewarding results. In a community context – like an allotment or therapy garden – it generates conversation and can reduce isolation.’
Just one thing we’d say is ‘Don't forget the joy!’ Our hearts lift with every spring, watching the brown buds unfurl into those bright light lime green rosettes, seeing the first primrose, daffodil and bluebell dance along the verges, spotting violets nestling on a bank and the blossom and bulbs come out in our gardens. Every week, there is something new to marvel at – or in some cases despair of as the slugs or vine weevils wreak havoc. But nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the magic of watching seeds come up, cutting your own roses for the house or plucking fresh leaves for supper.
Do visit the NGS website, ngs.org.uk, where there’s a dedicated Gardens & Health section with a host of inspiring stories. Nyla Tharp (main photo) was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease in January 2017. She had to stop working and her dreams of a honeymoon and starting a family disappeared. But her garden still brought her happiness. ‘Even the simple pleasure of watching a bee collecting nectar was enough to make me happy inside. I sincerely believe my garden stopped me from becoming clinically depressed. It helped me continued to live my life.’
For more about gardens and health week, click here
GREEN FINGERS: THE BENEFITS
• Long-term reduction in conditions including heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal disorders.
• High physical activity.
• Exposure to natural light and vitamin D.
• Reduced levels of obesity.
• Significant reductions in depression and anxiety.
• More opportunities for socialising.
• Valuable as a non-academic task and peaceful environment for children with learning difficulties and behavioural problems.