Report calls for greater integration of gardening in NHS & public health policy

A groundbreaking report commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme from The King’s Fund calls for greater recognition and integration of gardens in NHS and public health policy
A headshot of two friends smiling in a garden.

Gardens play a powerful role in the care of our minds and bodies and should be used more systematically in our health and social care system, argues a new report by The King’s Fund.

The independent report, commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme, calls on policymakers, the NHS, clinicians and local government to recognise and do more to promote the importance of gardens and gardening in improving health outcomes. This includes:

  • NHS England and their partners should incorporate the positive role of gardens and gardening in the delivery of their flagship programmes (such as the New Models of Care programme, Healthy New Towns and A Social Movement for Health)
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups should consider social prescribing of gardening as part of a range of approaches to improving health
  • Local authorities and their partners should explore innovative approaches to sustaining public gardens (for example through new funding models, reciprocal gardening schemes and community gardening on NHS and low-quality public land)

The health benefits of gardens (including active gardening) are broad and diverse according to the evidence brought together for the first time in this report. It suggests that they can play a role in promoting good health and preventing ill-health, with potential long-term implications for healthcare costs. In a wide-ranging review, it shows how access to gardens has been linked to:

  • Reduced depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress
  • Benefits for various conditions including heart disease, cancer and obesity
  • Better balance which can help to prevent falls in older people (a cause of major NHS costs)
  • Alleviating symptoms of dementia
  • Improving sense of personal achievement among children

Gardens are an extraordinary national resource. Nearly 90% of UK households have a garden and half the population are gardeners. But we could do much more to nurture and maximise the contribution gardens make to enhancing people’s health. Currently the formal use of gardens in England’s health and social care system remains very limited, despite the promising results from a range of interventions, including GPs ‘social prescribing’ gardening, and garden projects in hospices.

At this year’s Chelsea Flower Show (which opens next week), gardens and health will be the main theme. This will be demonstrated in a number of the show gardens and confirm recognition by the gardening world of the health and social care benefits of gardens.

Garden Organic's Director of Operations, Steve Thomson, welcomes the report:

The health benefits of gardening and food growing have long been know to dedicated gardeners. It's great to see the evidence base grow to support this, Garden Organic has been successfully providing health and wellbeing interventions for a number of years and the independent evaluations of our work support the finding of this report. That this report is published on a day when we're hosting an event about supporting people living with dementia makes it even more timely.

Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, said: “Gardening improves your mental and physical health – it keeps you active, it can help people with dementia to feel calm and relaxed, and coming together to tend a garden tackles social isolation. This report will be a helpful resource for local areas as they help people to lead healthier lives.”

Mary Berry CBE, President of the National Gardens Scheme, said: “I have long been aware of the therapeutic benefits of gardening and visiting gardens and how being outside in lovely surroundings, in the fresh air, is so good for our wellbeing. If the report helps to emphasise and give greater understanding of these benefits so that they can be put to wider use for people's health, that would be a great achievement.”

Sarah Waller, CBE, Associate Specialist, Association for Dementia Studies, University of Worcester, said: “Gardens can be so important to us particularly at difficult and painful times in our lives. Patients and residents in our health and social care system should have the opportunity to access therapeutic garden spaces wherever possible”.

You can access a full copy of the report here. To read about Garden Organic's projects improving health and well being through organic growing, click here.