When we think of things we could do to better our mental health, we usually think ‘meditation,’ ‘self-care’ or ‘yoga.’ But not many people think of compost and seedlings – maybe because it’s also seen as something only a certain age group enjoy. In this blog post, we will look at the wonders of gardening for mental health – whether that’s growing fruit and veg or simply pruning pretty rose bushes.
Well, multiple studies have shown that in fact, gardening can be pivotal in improving mental health for anyone. Just the sight of plants and countryside can trigger the part of the brain that induces relaxation. It’s about time we all took a leaf out of these studies and tried it for ourselves.
Table of Contents
Studies show that we as humans have a fundamental, genetically based human need for a connection with nature. This primitive need to be within nature is represented in the study that shows how the frontal lobe (our brain that’s tuned in to modern, digital life) switches off when we’re outside. Instead, the alpha waves in our brains grow stronger – which are indicators of an alert but calm state.
Which makes sense seeing as the stress levels between those who live in the rural areas and those who are within the busy urban landscape is quite astonishing, the latter being high. Those in living amongst the business of a city crave the calming effects of a rural environment. 
The most widely accepted thesis for this is named the Biophilia hypothesis: the human’s belonging in natural environments with other living organisms. This involves our preference for natural scenes as opposed to man-made, how we think better outside, and our natural instinct in response to things such as snakes and wild berries we shouldn’t eat.
It has been said that this is something to do with the uncomplexity of a sight of green fields. For example, they are still and uncomplicated. They won’t make you late for work, they aren’t a busy street, they aren’t a queue in a store or a manager making work more stressful. It is simply life in all its natural wonder. Therefore, it’s no surprise that as humans, we crave and are drawn to this.
So how can planting a few shrubs or growing some edible greenery contribute to a better state of mind? Below we have listed the seven most common means
People are unaware that one of the main benefits of gardening is its positive effect on our mental health and its power to reduce stress. This was found when studying the effect of forest bathing – a Japanese concept which adopts a method of being quiet and walking calmly amongst the trees, taking in and observing the surrounding nature. 
One of the main de-stressors is said to be down to temporarily taking our lives away from the digital world, known to induce stress and back to the primal and natural. A study backed up this idea when they found that participants’ mood had remarkable differences in response to two tasks: transplanting (plants from pot to soil) and working on the computer. The latter creating significant stress and the former reducing it. 
A study conducted by Vrje University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found that simply seeing a green landscape prompted a feeling of relaxation. It also concluded that just five minutes of viewing urban green space can support recovery from stress. 
Gardening is a form of grounding, figuratively, and quite literally. When gardening, we are back in primal mode and being at one with nature connects our soul with our primitive selves. It aids a sense of connection we lose from being all too intertwined with the digital world and the rat race of everyday life. 
This sense of connection can also be from the people you meet through gardening. Garden centres, allotments, and gardening clubs are extremely relaxing places whereby you’ll meet people and have some ‘common ground’ with them. Having a mutual goal brings you closer together and enables you to serve a common purpose as a community. 
Gardening for mental health also allows you to connect with the present moment. What you are doing now matters, today. Whether that be replanting or watering, every act in the now is essential. It concentrates your mind on the current moment – pruning or weeding is a task that takes your mind away from the past and the future.
When growing plants or food you will find a sense of purpose and responsibility for something’s growth. This tiny plant’s survival will bring you great satisfaction with the finished product. You are responsible for the birth, growth and life of that living organism. That’s pretty cool. 
Studies have shown that gardening and having a sense of purpose through nurturing something increases the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters in our brains. The more dopamine and serotonin we have, the higher our feeling of well-being and happiness.
Gardening improves cognitive function and therefore improves memory as well as concentration. This is, therefore, a particularly good activity for those with Alzheimer’s, with studies claiming it could even reduce the risk of the disease itself by 36%. 
Gardening is very physical and so it’s no surprise it burns calories and can keep you in shape. All forms of gardening require physical activity, and according to SAGA magazine, only 30 minutes of these gardening activities is enough to burn a lot of calories: 
Not only is this great for physical health, but it also contributes to a better sleep, which in turn benefits mental and physical health.
The exposure to sunlight through gardening means greater production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to fight against many diseases, particularly respiratory ones. There are also apparently friendly bacteria within the soil which has been proved to help symptoms of allergies, asthma and psoriasis. 
You don’t need professional equipment and the knowledge of Alan Titchmarsh to start growing your own. Below we have listed some simple tips to help get you started:
Stop the umming and ahhing and go for it. There’s nothing to lose, only great mental health benefits to gain. Remember this is a learning process, you won’t be perfect straight away.
Start with no expectations that you’ll know what you’re doing. You will incrementally learn and placing too much pressure on yourself defeats the whole destress’ objective.
So, don’t plant too much at once, keep it simple. You have plenty of time to add to it! Get a few little plant pots and a cheap greenhouse to put over it, put it somewhere you can see from the back door and you’ll remember to tend to them every day.
The soil is the crux of success in planting; avoid soils with harsh chemicals and be sure to give the soil organic feed – so for example, compost. This will make your plants thrive.
What you want to plant is entirely up to you! Fruit? Veg? Herbs? Flowers? One of the quickest and easiest things to plant are radishes.
They grow within the first week or so and can be transplanted to ground soil really quickly. So pick something along the lines of that for your first go, and go from there.
Do a little bit of research about what you’re planting before you get going, this is so you know what to expect, what to look out for, and whether your plants are growing well.
It also will inform you what environments are best for the plant you’re deciding to grow.
Try to make sure you spend some time looking at your plants even if nothing need be done that day, you might be able to spot problems before they occur.
It’s not a problem! A study showed that having and interacting with indoor plants resulted in reduced stress levels, a significant drop in blood pressure and soothed the emotions of the person. Indoor plants are just as powerful and therefore eliminates the need for outdoor plants.
The cheapest way to go about gardening is buying simple pot (or pot) soil, compost and seeds. You can pick up seeds for a range of flowers for as little as 50pence in some places. Don’t go spending fortunes on already grown flowers to replant (if takes the fun out of it!).
Remember why you’re doing this, as a way to fill your time, to learn and to relax! So, what if your first few or even 10 gardening experiences fail? It’s all about the process and becoming educated in that field over time. 
It’s about the enjoyment and wellbeing benefits you’ll gain. There’s potential failure in everything, it’s about learning from it and starting again. So get started. There’s nothing stopping you from entering a whole new world of calm.
Rehab 4 Addiction can advise & guide you towards the best treatments for substance abuse, behavioural disorders and mental health conditions. Call us now on 0800 140 4690 for support.