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The joy of gardening: how to embrace outdoor space to maximise wellbeing

Posted by on 2 May, 2023 in Mental Health |

The joy of gardening: how to embrace outdoor space to maximise wellbeing

Having some outdoor space – whether that’s a courtyard, garden or balcony – is a fantastic opportunity. Growing our own vegetables or plants, watching them thrive or simply enjoying the sights and smells of nature – all of the activities associated with gardening – can really boost our mood. Spending time outdoors is great for our wellbeing, but gardening can give your time outside a greater sense of purpose. Even those without outdoor space can give nurturing certain fruits, vegetables, and plants a go, as they’ll grow on windowsills. In this guide, we explore the joy of gardening and how you can embrace it.

From choosing the perfect plants for your garden to watching them grow, there’s something truly special about spending time in the great outdoors surrounded by nature. Many people enjoy spending time outside, and gardening is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise.

Gardening can also be very rewarding, as it allows you to see the fruits of your labour bloom before your eyes. For those with green fingers, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of nurturing a plant from seed to flower. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just getting started, it’s easy to see why gardening is such a popular pastime. In fact, studies have shown:

42% of Brits enjoy gardening
35% claim it helps them relax
The activity gets more enjoyable and relaxing with age:

Just over 35% of 25 to 34 year olds enjoy gardening and 24.48% say it helps them to relax. Whilst 51.42% of 55+ enjoy gardening and 46.91% say the activity helps them to relax.

Is gardening good for us?

For most of us, spending time outside in a garden or open space is incredibly important. We know it makes us feel better. While not everyone maybe a fan of gardening, they certainly enjoy spending time in gardens and appreciate other benefits of outdoor environments. According to YouGov for HTA:

87% believe gardens and green spaces benefit their state of mind
84% believe gardens and green spaces benefit their physical health
94% believe gardens and green spaces benefit the environment
94% believe gardens and green spaces make an area a pleasant place to live
93% believe gardens and green spaces help to support wildlife

The same research reveals that people use their own gardens for a range of reasons:

70% as a place to relax
62% to grow plants, trees or flowers
49% to feed, watch or encourage the presence of wildlife
42% to entertain family or friends
35% to grow their own food
31% as a space for pets
23% for a space for children to play
15% to get exercise

Physical and wellbeing benefits of gardening
People enjoy their gardens for a number of reasons, whether that’s playing with their kids or hosting a barbecue. While plenty of people also enjoy gardening, for some it may be a case of getting the necessary chores done so they can sit back and enjoy the space. But do you know just how beneficial the activity of gardening can be for your health and wellbeing?

Without a doubt, gardening keeps us active. Activities associated with gardening – such as planting, pulling weeds, and mowing the lawn – can all boost our cardiovascular health and fitness. Spend enough time digging, weeding and trimming, and you’ll soon work up a sweat. In fact, the calories burnt from 30 minutes of gardening are nearly comparable to playing badminton or practising yoga. And because gardening is low-impact, it’s a great form of exercise for people who are looking for less intensive exercise options.

Seeing the success of your hard work in the garden can provide a real sense of accomplishment. Not only are you creating a space for you and your family to enjoy, gardens planted with diversity in mind are incredibly important for local environments. Well-balanced gardens can help ecosystems thrive, which is something you should feel good about.

Gardening is associated with relieving stress and increasing relaxed feelings. The RHS surveyed around 6,000 people and discovered a significant association between gardening more frequently and improvements in wellbeing, perceived stress and physical activity. The research also revealed those who garden every day have wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than people who don’t garden at all.

Family bonding
Why not get your whole family involved in gardening? It’s a chance to spend some time together in the fresh air. Gardening is a very versatile activity – it can be as simple or as complex as you like. If you have little ones, they can help with planting seeds or pulling weeds. Older kids might want to learn how to operate a lawn mower or use a trowel. And everyone can enjoy the satisfaction of watching their garden grow.

The value of spending time outside
If you’re not yet convinced of the joy of gardening, you can still embrace many of the benefits simply by spending more time outdoors. In a government survey, it was found that:

94% of adults felt that spending time outdoors was good for their physical health
82% of adults reported that being in nature made them very happy, indicating high levels of nature connection among respondents

Spending time outside can sometimes help improve our wellbeing, for example a short walk in the park or a short time spent gardening can make a difference.

Tips for gardening
The average gardener spends nearly two hours a week keeping on top of gardening jobs. This may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a year this includes:

15 hours a year mowing the lawn
13 hours weeding
8 hours re-painting sheds and fences
45 hours watering plants/flowers
9 hours trimming hedges
4 hours jet washing patios

Of course, these are all averages. Most homeowners with a garden will need to spend some time keeping their space well-maintained, but the amount of time needed will vary depending on the garden you have. A lawn with limited planting will not require the same amount of work as someone with bordering planting and a small vegetable patch, for example. Most gardeners will be happier spending more time pottering in their garden over the spring and summer months when the weather is better too.

But whether you consider yourself a seasonal gardener or would simply like to make more out of your space, we’ve put together some gardening tips targeted at those who have a garden, as well as people who may have limited or no outside space.

If you have a house and garden
The average UK garden is 188 square metres, according to ONS data, but there is a huge variation depending on where you live – from an average of 16 square metres in the City of London to over 700 square metres in Na h-Eileanan Siar, Scotland. Whatever the size of your garden, consider the following advice:

Design a garden that suits the amount of time you want to spend gardening
You may appreciate highly manicured gardens, but do you have the time to dedicate to maintaining one yourself? Think about how much time you’d enjoy spending gardening and plan your garden around that.

Plan ahead for the seasons
Any experienced gardener will tell you that one of the keys to success is planning ahead. This is especially true when it comes to the changing seasons. For example, if you want to enjoy blooming flowers in spring, you need to plant the bulbs earlier. By planning ahead and taking into account the growing cycle of plants, you can ensure that your garden is always in peak condition.

Consider what your garden will look like all-year round
Many of us find ourselves with a sudden urge to get outside and start gardening when it’s warmer. However, it’s important to take a step back and consider what you want your garden to look like all year round, not just in the springtime. If you live in an area with cold winters, you’ll need to choose plants that can withstand frosty temperatures for months at a time. If you’re looking for something to brighten up those dark winter days, you might want to consider planting some evergreens or holly bushes.

Consider what you’re planting and where
Before you select your plants, be sure to do some research or read the instructions on the seed packets or nursery tags. Think about where you want to add planting and how much light the spot gets throughout the day, as well as the soil type. Research should give you critical information on what conditions each plant will thrive in, as well as how deep to plant the seeds or how far apart to space the plants.

Prepare the soil before planting
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, it’s time to start preparing the soil. If you’re starting with an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove the grass and weeds. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to till the soil and add some compost or other organic matter.

Think about garden security
When considering the layout of your garden, think about what you’re planting along your boundaries and how that impacts security. Lower hedges may be better so that you have visibility over your garden, for example. Having a secure garden shed also allows you to lock away any garden valuables, such as tools.

If you live in a flat or apartment without a garden
According to ONS data, one in eight British households has no garden. So how can those people enjoy the benefits of gardening and spending time outdoors without their own private space? Well, areas least likely to have a private garden are most likely to live close to a public park, according to data, so there’s the opportunity to visit public gardens and open spaces.

You can also consider how to utilise other space which may be available, including:

Even the smallest of balconies can be used for gardening. You can hang certain pots and planters over ledges to maximise the space you have. You’ll be surprised what wildlife, including birds and butterflies, you may start seeing from your windows.

Gardening vertically is the answer for anyone with very limited space. Use wall planters or mounts, flower pot rings, or incorporate the use of wall vases to make use of any outside wall space.

If you don’t have space outside, a lot of indoor plants thrive in pots on windowsills or other locations. You can choose the right indoor plants to suit the conditions of your home – how much natural light you have, whether you’d like them to be low maintenance, and so on.

Communal gardens
A lot of flats and apartments have communal space outside, but it often goes unused and unloved. Why don’t you suggest planting some low maintenance shrubs or flowers for everyone to enjoy? You could even put some seating to encourage people outside.

For the most green-fingered, an allotment is the perfect solution to a lack of garden space. Although many have waiting lists due to demand, you could enjoy growing your own fruit and vegetables – plus, with an allotment, you’d definitely have enough to share with friends and family.

Gardening at school
Aside from the time you spend at home in the garden or enjoying public spaces, such as parks, playgrounds, gardens, footpaths and other outdoor environments, children may spend time outside while at school. Spending their break times in the playground may be one of their favourite parts of the school day. But do UK kids take part in any garden education or activities?

Well, there’s plenty of good news, according to HTA data. Over 1.5 million children in 90% of the UK’s primary schools are involved in some form of school gardening. Three-quarters of UK primary schools offer school gardening as an extra-curricular activity, while for 34% it’s in the curriculum.

It can also help them to develop important life skills, such as patience, instil a sense of responsibility in kids and give them a sense of pride in their accomplishments. What’s more, gardening can be a therapeutic activity that helps to reduce stress and promote wellbeing.

With a little bit of help from their teachers, they can soon discover the joys of getting their hands dirty and watching their plants grow.

Gardens to visit in the UK
The UK is home to some of the most glorious gardens in the world. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your own gardening plans, or simply want to spend time outside somewhere beautiful, here are just some you can visit:

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
One of the largest and most diverse botanical gardens in the world, with more than 30,000 different species of plants. It’s a must-see for any plant lover.

Chelsea Physic Garden
Founded in 1673, this historic garden is home to more than 5,000 different species of medicinal and herbal plants. Stroll through the stunning four-acre apothecary’s garden, which contains over 1,000 different kinds of plants.

Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden
Located in Scotland’s capital city, this garden is an oasis of peace and tranquillity with more than 70 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens to explore.

Sissinghurst Castle
Home to one of the most famous gardens in the UK, first planted in the early 20th century, this stunning garden features a series of outdoor ‘rooms’, each with its own unique character.

Wentworth Castle Gardens
Dating back to the 18th century these gardens have been restored to their former glory. They are home to a wide variety of plants, including many rare and endangered species. In addition, the gardens offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

This arts and crafts-inspired garden is in the Cotswold hills and has intricately designed outdoor spaces you can explore, including a number of rare and unusual plants, making it a haven for plant enthusiasts.

The Eden Project
A must-visit for anyone interested in gardening and sustainable living, the Eden Project is located in Cornwall. This huge complex houses a series of sheltered biomes, each filled with plants from different climates around the world. It’s an educational experience.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Another highlight in Cornwall, these gardens were created over 200 years ago and were designed to be a pleasure ground for the wealthy Tremayne family. Today, the gardens are open to the public and are a must-see for any gardener or plant-lover. With the award-winning vegetable gardens, remarkable topiary and beautiful flowers, it’s easy to see why.

Tresco Abbey Gardens
A botanical paradise on the Isles of Scilly, these gardens are home to over 20,000 different plant species from all over the world, many of which thrive in the subtropical climate. The gardens are also home to an abundance of wildlife, including rare birds, bats, and butterflies.

RHS Garden Bridgewater
The first ever RHS garden to be created in an urban area, based in Salford, Greater Manchester, this garden boasts one of the UK’s largest Victorian walled gardens, alongside extensive landscaped grounds.

Elsewhere in the world
We may be spoilt for choice in the UK, but the rest of the world has some beautiful gardens well worth visiting:

Alhambra palace, Spain
The palace, which was built in the 13th century, is a perfect example of Moorish architecture and features a number of beautiful courtyards, gardens, and fountains. Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Spain.

Boboli Gardens, Italy
Nestled in the heart of Florence, Boboli Gardens is one of Italy’s most beautiful and historic green spaces. With origins dating back to the 16th century, the gardens have been painstakingly restored to their original glory, providing a stunning setting for a leisurely stroll or picnic. Visitors can explore an array of sculptures and fountains and take in sweeping views of the city.

Pond and Spring Flowering Blubs at Keukenhof Gardens, the Netherlands
Keukenhof Gardens, the Netherlands
Set in the heart of the country’s bulb-growing region, Keukenhof is a truly remarkable sight, with over seven million flowers on display. The gardens are open for just eight weeks each year, so timing your visit is essential. Spring is the best time to see the tulips in bloom, but there are also daffodils, hyacinths, and other flowers to enjoy.

Ryoan-ji Temple, Japan
The temple grounds feature a tranquil pond and a meticulously manicured garden with 15 moss-covered stone slabs. The garden is designed in such a way that from any point on the grounds, you can only see 14 of the 15 stones. This is meant to encourage reflection and contemplation.

Jardim Botânico de Curitiba, Brazil
Brazil is home to a variety of unique plants and animals, making it a destination that is definitely worth a visit for any nature lover. The Jardim Botânico de Curitiba, or Curitiba Botanical Garden, is one of the best places in the country to see some of these amazing creatures. The garden is home to over 3,500 species of plants, as well as a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa
This garden is home to over 7,000 species of plants, and it offers spectacular views of Table Mountain and the surrounding area. Kirstenbosch is also a great place to learn about the country’s diverse plant life. The garden’s staff offer regular guided tours, and there is also an informative visitor centre.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Florida
If you’re looking for a unique and peaceful experience, look no further than Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Florida. Surrounded by lush greenery, the museum and gardens offer a glimpse into traditional Japanese culture. The museum houses a collection of Japanese art and artefacts, while the gardens feature tranquil ponds, bridges, and sculptures. Visitors can also enjoy tea ceremonies, calligraphy classes, and other traditional Japanese arts.