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18 May 2005 PR 05/38

Research shows gardening is good for health and well-being

A pioneering study by Loughborough University and Britain’s leading social and therapeutic horticulture charity, Thrive, has found that gardening can have a positive effect on the physical and mental health, well-being and social skills of vulnerable adults.

The three-year study, conducted by researchers in Loughborough’s Department of Social Sciences, and funded by the Big Lottery Fund, looked at the benefits of horticulture as a tool for helping vulnerable adults overcome a range of health and social problems.

Groups involved in the study included those with learning difficulties and serious mental health problems, the long term unemployed, victims of torture, and people with physical health problems and disabilities.

As part of the research, the team looked at the benefits of gardening projects that have been set up across the country to provide social and therapeutic horticulture to clients. There are more than 900 of these projects around the UK, which focus on the abilities of vulnerable adults, as opposed to their disabilities.

Attendees take part in activities such as planting, cultivating, growing and nurturing, and do physical work, for instance digging and construction. They can also contribute to production through marketing and selling produce.

The researchers found that such projects provided increased access to nature and ‘growing things’ and the peace of the outdoor environment. They also offered opportunities for self-reflection and relaxation.

Dr Jo Aldridge, one of the principal researchers, commented: “Many of those who took part in the research study were on medication for their health problems and had tried a number of conventional treatments. They found that going to the projects regularly and taking part in gardening and related activities actually helped them in other ways.

“Being outside in the fresh air, undertaking the physical exercise that gardening demands, working with nature and nurturing plants, all helped to improve clients’ health and well-being.”

Dr Aldridge also explained that gardening helped people build self-esteem and develop their social skills.

“Many of those who took part in the study were socially excluded and institutionalised in their daily lives. They had little opportunity to get out in the fresh air and work alongside others. In most cases clients’ social skills and self-confidence increased as a result of taking part in gardening activity at projects.”

Through the horticulture projects some clients were able to extend their existing social networks, while others made new and significant friendships. Gardening allowed them to meet others in the wider community who share an interest in horticulture and gardening activity. It also helped closer relationships to develop between vulnerable (socially excluded) and non-vulnerable (socially included) members of society.

Over time staff working at the gardening projects noticed improvements in clients’ health, well-being and social skills as well.

Tim Spurgeon, Head of Advisory Services at Thrive, said: “Project staff told us that those clients with physical disabilities and severe learning difficulties improved their motor skills through potting up seedlings and plants, and developed their communications skills by working closely alongside other clients and project staff.

“This research shows that horticulture and gardening can no longer be treated as a trivial activity – it is comparable to any other physical therapy.”


For further information contact:

Notes to editors

  1. Thrive is a national charity whose aim is to enable positive change in the lives of disabled and disadvantaged people through the use of gardening and horticulture. For further information contact Thrive, The Geoffrey Udall Centre, Beech Hill, Reading RG7 2AT, T: 0118 988 5688, F: 0118 988 5677, E: info@thrive.org.uk or visit www.thrive.org.uk

  2. The Loughborough/Thrive Growing Together research was conducted at 24 garden projects across the UK. Interviews were recorded with 137 clients, 88 project staff and carers, and 11 health professionals. The verbatim accounts of all participants in the study were used throughout the full report.

  3. The study also included photographic research with people with severe learning difficulties. These more vulnerable participants were given cameras and asked to take photographs during their time at projects in order to illustrate (pictorially) their experiences of gardening.

  4. Evidence from this study confirms recent findings from a Mental Health Foundation study that highlighted the importance of exercise for people with depression.

  5. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place Loughborough in the top flight of UK universities, and industry highlights Loughborough in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 45% of the University’s income is for research. The University has been awarded four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; and for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development.

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