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The Life Enhancing Power of Plants: How Plants and Gardening Can Influence Our Mental Health

max_thrower
Published on October 10th 2019
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A close up of a green plant
What does mental health mean to you? This week for the Festival of Flowers, we're taking a closer look at how plants, gardening, flowers, outside space and all that falls in between, influences our mental health and well-being
Over the last year, it's not only gardeners who have relied on gardens and green spaces as a place of refuge and escape. Gardening and spending time surrounded by nature can be seen as a mindful activity because it allows us to switch off, giving us a moment of quiet and allows space to breathe.
As the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is Nature, we thought we’d share with you some of the benefits that plants, gardening and nature have to offer us.
Can you tell we like plants?
It would be wrong of us to tell you that plants or gardening is a sure-fire way to improve poor mental health. Plants alone are not enough to remedy mental health issues, and if you ever feel like your struggling, reach out to someone you trust. Here are a few services and organisations that can offer support.
The Mental Health Foundation also offer online resources, including statistics, podcasts, videos, and first-hand stories.

How do plants improve mental health?

You likely know someone who has benefitted from plants, whether that be someone who has gardened throughout their lives or someone who enjoys spending their time exploring local parks and nature reserves. In either situation, we reap the same benefits!
Throughout the pandemic, nature and gardening have been a constant for many people. Last summer, the demand for allotments had risen by 500%, with the average waiting time increasing to 18 months.
A group of bushes in a garden

Demand for Allotments Soars By Up To 500%

Marc_Rosenberg

Spending time in a more natural environment has been proven to reduce stress and mental fatigue, and similarly, flowers can have the same effect! For example, a study found that fresh roses in an office setting on average decreased heart rate variability and left participants feeling more 'comfortable,’ 'relaxed’ and 'natural’.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, going for walks was one of our main coping strategies amidst the pandemic. Similarly, they found websites live streaming nature showed that people tuning in to watch had increased by over 2000%, indicating a want to connect with nature and the outdoors. “It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.”

How plants can improve cognitive wellbeing

Studies have demonstrated that natural settings can improve cognitive functions for all ages. Natural elements in the home have been demonstrated to improve cognitive function in children. Whereas at the other end of the spectrum, several other studies have looked at how gardening can help combat dementia and Alzheimer's in the elderly.
One study, in particular, found that mental capacities deteriorated slower in Alzheimer's patients who gardened twice a week for 12 weeks.
Gardening can help the cognitive function of people of all ages

How plants impact psychological wellbeing

The psychological benefits are a bit harder to quantify than impacts on cognitive function.
They include using plant care as a way to deal with stress and enhance peace and wellbeing. From the act of gardening itself to the sense of accomplishment you feel when a plant blooms or bears fruit.
a child holding a tomato
Don't take our word for it...
Studies suggest that gardening can act as a coping strategy for people with cancer, providing a sense of well-being and peace.
Other studies have found that gardening can reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress.

Why do plants improve wellbeing?

What's important to consider is that plants are physical representatives of nature within urban environments. They offer links to nature that are becoming increasingly lost in modern society. Many of the mental benefits associated with looking after plants are similar to those gained when spending time connecting with nature.
There are a couple of theories as to why plants and gardening can improve wellbeing.
We have evolved with an ingrained need to connect with living things, and working with plants fulfils this. Studies have shown that people have preferences for savannah-like scenes, where humans spent the most time evolving.
Another theory suggests that modern life is full of stimuli that require so much attention that we can become mentally exhausted. Interactions with nature don't need this attention, providing an escape from every day and a place for curiosity and fascination to arise. This natural reset allows us to restore our ability to focus and alleviate stress.
A similar theory posits that modern life overwhelms our senses with stimuli, causing stress. Areas with plants again provide a refuge in which we can restore our minds in a non-threatening environment free from the negative aspects of society.
A close up of a flower garden
A perfect garden refuge if I've ever seen one
The empathetic connections that people form with plants are equally as meaningful as the natural elements. Like us, they grow, respond to care, live and die. And the stakes aren't as high as in other aspects of life. It's not the end of the world if a couple of your tomato plants don't work out.
We spoke with Annabelle Padwick, Founder and Director of Life at no.27. As a Gardening and Wellbeing Therapist, Annabelle works with schools (and is currently creating adult therapy sites) to empower people based on her own experiences.
'One of our main aims is to support and provide a place where people can be in control, take ownership of and build confidence.' Annabelle told us. 'Making people smile isn't measurable, and it's important to learn that not everything goes your way, some things just won't work, and you'll have to try something else.'
Annabelle currently works predominantly with children but is working with the NHS on incorporating garden therapy into social prescriptions given out by GPs.

How you can get started:

You don't have to be an expert or have any experience to start gardening. It's best to start small first of all, why not make a terrarium or start collecting houseplants? If you'd like to have a go at growing-your-own veg, we'd suggest growing tomatoes, radish, salad and peas!

Festival of Flowers

Has gardening, flowers or nature helped you and your mental health? Let us know on social media by showing using the hashtag #ShowUsYourBlooms!
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