This year The RHS is encouraging everyone to Get your dose of Vitamin G by taking a few minutes each day to connect with nature.
In support of this initiative, a member of TEP’s Land Management Team Rick Tomlinson explores the benefits of gardening on health, wellbeing and the promotion of the landscape profession along with some personal stories about his gardening experiences.
The Power of Vitamin G
My experience of gardening started very early in life. One of my earliest memories is chasing my Grandad down the garden path with a brush and shovel, trying to convince him to take me with him on his gardening rounds, as he had a small gardening business. Of course, for his sins, he took me along for the ride and over the following years sparked my passion for gardening and learning how to care for and make the most out of our gardens. Without that opportunity early on, I doubt I would be in the landscape profession that I very much enjoy today.
I think many people working in the gardening, landscape or environmental industry can probably relate to this in one way or another. How we started out early, which then built upon and grew our love for the environment and the desire to safeguard its future. But, as horticultural and landscape industries report skills gaps especially with young people, I suppose the question is how do we encourage people, in particular young people, if they don’t get the opportunity or exposure to that initial spark?
Many of us in the industry are well aware of the benefits and the importance of our green spaces. Undeniably, the recent pandemic has amplified these benefits for the general public as well. It is widely acknowledged that spending time in private and public gardens is associated with better physical, social and mental health. Since January 2019, the wonderful NHS has officially included social prescribing in its long term plan, with the view of exposing more people to the delights of green space and gardening. It’s also common knowledge that exercise is good for us and those of you that have tried to manually dig over a border or hand weed and top dress, will know just how much effort and exertion that takes; you can certainly feel you’ve done a good days work from the amount of aching the following day. There is also a great deal of pleasure in seeing the fruits (apologies for the pun(net)) of your labour, which can be a fantastic boost for your mental health. For some, this may be creating a garden from scratch or simply sowing a few seeds and watching them grow.
My children sowing wildflowers, excited to watch them germinate in the coming weeks and see them flower throughout the summer.
The benefits of gardening are deep, broad and diverse. Many studies and reports show that gardening can go a long way to significantly reduce depression and anxiety, both in adults and children. The RHS has undertaken research and practical programmes like the RHS campaign for school gardens, which support these findings, with four in five teachers reporting that the inclusion of gardening in the school programme has had a significant positive impact on pupil health and wellbeing. Another positive discovery is the use of therapeutic gardening during in-patient treatment, which correlates with a reduction in the overall length of stay in the hospital. Research on the benefits of ecosystem services in urban areas shows that patients with a view over greenspace or a well-managed garden require less pain medication and recover faster.
Of course, the importance of correctly managing and maintaining our environment spans many other hugely important factors, like climate change mitigation and increasing biodiversity. The overwhelming research (which I’m sure will continue to grow) shows how important greenspaces are and as a profession, we absolutely need to continue to bang this drum loud and clear.
We also need to continue to promote how important simple gardening tasks can be for physical, mental and social wellbeing and call for health organisations and governments to promote the benefits of gardening. Additionally, we can continue to build on the many great initiatives already working hard to engage people with the landscape from the RHS school gardening (mentioned earlier), BALI’s GoLandscape program, the Landscape Institute’s Choose Landscape campaign and many others.
There is by no means a definitive answer to my original question. There is a lot of great work already being done but I believe, that to support this further we can all contribute something, however small. Using or promoting a simple act of gardening to encourage the next generation to pick up a trowel and get messy, to prune and deadhead or to simply sow some seeds and watch them grow. Getting the word out there about the great work we do as landscape professionals and promoting a good dose of regular ‘Vitamin G’. You never know, that one child you show how to plant a bulb today, may watch that bulb grow and ignite the spark.
The first bulbs of spring are always a delight and something that my children always look forward to spotting after the winter.
Principal Landscape Manager