Scientists have found that spending two hours a week in nature is linked to better health and wellbeing. It’s maybe not entirely surprising then that some patients are increasingly being prescribed time in nature and community gardening projects as part of “green prescriptions” by the NHS. In Shetland for example, islanders with depression and anxiety may be given “nature prescriptions”, with doctors there recommending walks and activities that allow people to connect with the outdoors.
Social prescriptions – non-medical treatments which have health benefits – are already used across the NHS to tackle anxiety, loneliness and depression. They often involve the referral of patients to a community or voluntary organisation, where they can carry out activities which help to meet their social and emotional needs, and increasingly doctors are opting for community gardening – as this also has the added benefit of involving time spent in nature – even in highly built-up areas.
And the evidence base for such treatments is growing – with research indicating that social prescribing can help to improve patients’ anxiety levels and general health. Findings also seem to suggest that social prescribing schemes can lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services.
The benefits of gardening
Research shows that gardening can directly improve people’s wellbeing. And that taking part in community gardening can also encourage people to adopt healthier behaviours. It may be, for example, that neighbourhood projects can be reached on foot or by bicycle – prompting people to take up more active transport options in their daily lives. Eating the produce from a community garden may also help people to form the habit of eating fresh, locally grown food.
Growing food is often the driving force behind community gardening projects, whether purely for the consumption of the gardeners or for local distribution or sale. Unlike growing on individual allotments or private gardens, community gardening requires an element of cooperation and collective planning. Working together towards shared goals can create a real sense of community. And in a garden, a feeling of connection may develop, not just with other people, but with the living world as a whole.