Health, horticulture & happiness

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My post  title is not actually original although these three words readily encapsulate key themes of my life. In fact the title is derived from the focus for 2016 for the RHS, the national gardening charity. Perceived by many I suspect to be the realm of posh middle class women who go to the Chelsea Flower Show and potter about in their gardens while their gardener does the real work, the RHS is a major driver for the importance of green spaces both for the health of people and the health of the environment. They receive no government funding and rely entirely on donations /fundraising. They run a major science/research programme and maintain wonderful gardens with educational programmes at all of them.The RHS was responsible for  a recent round table conference on Health & Horticulture and the talks and slides for this can be accessed on line.  Listen to talks at RHS Health & Horticulture Conference . Two other organisations have particularly attracted my attention as I explore  resources to help me develop the therapeutic aspect of nurturenature. Thrive is the national organisation for Social and Therapeutic Horticulture with a website that for someone like me who might be said to be vaguely obsessional about the concept of therapeutic gardening provides fuel for my passion with information on areas including education and training, existing projects supported by Thrive, evidence for the benefits of gardening on physical and mental wellbeing, advice on gardening with a disability . Use Thrive as a starting point to learn about therapeutic horticulture.  I am hoping to attend some of their one day starter courses in the autumn to learn more and have the opportunity to interact with other like-minded individuals. My ability to do this will as always depend on my health rather than my level of commitment or enthusiasm. Gardens_and_healthKingsFund2016 Another excellent resource and potential lever for me to use to try and get gardening prescribed and funding to support therapeutic gardening in our area is the recent Kings Fund independent report on gardening and health commissioned by the National Garden Scheme, another National gardening charity, most well known for the open gardens scheme it runs. Not quite ready to use any levers yet as that will have to wait until I have got more organised, concrete project plans (those who know me will know I do like a nice spreadsheet and lots of lists/mind maps to optimise organisation) but I am making progress towards this. One of my problems is that I am just too fascinated by all the literature/research I am finding and become completely engrossed in reading journal articles on the subject rather than writing my project plan. I rationalise this by saying that I will have a more evidence based case to put forward in the end! So much more to write about…but I will finish this brief post with some key messages and thoughts, by no means all inclusive but a few key themes that stand out for me……..


There is an increasing body of evidence to support the hypothesis that gardening and even simply exposure to nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health. So much to read…..

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There is a drive from a number of health related professional bodies to make gardening prescribable along the same model as exercise prescriptions for health. This model has already been implemented in a number of areas.

It is important that we learn from existing projects both local and national/International.

I am personally becoming increasingly committed and passionate about seeing this project to fruition but also increasingly aware of the challenges that even this very small project presents – for any body – but particularly for me with my own not inconsiderable (some understatement) health and mobility challenges. However I am incredibly well supported by a range of special people which makes a massive difference to what is achievable.

I am also committed to trying to persuade local public and charitable bodies to implement gardening and health projects as part of health and wellbeing strategies going forward – perfect for the survivorship programmes I am involved with on a voluntary basis as a user (having had breast cancer) but to which I also bring some professional expertise having been a consultant in long term follow up of  cancer survivors before I retired. This gives me an unusual dual perspective on cancer survivorship. Any work done here could be readily translated to other chronic illnesses.

There is an urgent need to develop a health economic case for gardening and health/wellbeing if it is become widely available; evidence that it is of health benefit without supporting evidence that it is also cost effective will not persuade NHS purse holders to allocate meaningful funding to this. There is therefore an urgent need for robust research in this area to explore how cost effectiveness can be optimised across a range of conditions and interventions.

I am dreaming about compost, garden plans, scented plants, tactile planting, raised beds…oh how sad is that (at least the compost bit!)

I hope my shoulders/arms improve sufficiently to let me do the propagation jobs I love and which is an important potential contribution of mine – and during which I am in the “flow”, happily lost in my own world and fully (and mindfully) absorbed in the task at hand.   good old wikipedia providing an explanation of what flow means in the context of (positive) psychology

“We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor. ” Henry David Thoreau

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