Gardening sustainably better for you as well as the planet finds RHS

The more sustainably you garden, the higher your perceived levels of wellbeing from it, scientists at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have found.

The research published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening reveals for the first time that taking a more sustainable approach to managing your garden has a positive impact not only on the environment but can also make you feel better compared with adopting a less green approach. The findings coincide with the start of the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival (2nd-7th July) where sustainable gardening practices appear front and centre.

The charity asked more than 2,000* people about their gardening habits with 83% of those that gardened considering it positive for their overall health and wellbeing, with the greatest benefits perceived for mental health followed by physical and social health.

Those gardeners who said they actively supported wildlife or limited their environmental footprint perceived higher overall health and wellbeing benefits from gardening.  The most common activities undertaken by those surveyed included avoiding the use of pesticides (62%), growing plants for bees and other pollinators (58%), and watering with rainwater or recycled greywater (43.8%).

Sustainable gardening, the research suggests, is thought to benefit people in six key ways:

  • improving environments for supporting human health
  • enhancing opportunities for psychological restoration
  • higher engagement in physical activity
  • wider or stronger social network bonds incorporating nature connectedness
  • providing a higher degree of continuous learning
  • and a sense of extended care-giving to the wider environment

For example, hand weeding expends more energy than applying weedkiller, as does using a watering can over a hose, or making, turning and mulching compost over buying an equivalent, while sustainable gardening also provides more opportunity for reflection and restoration through the experience of greater connectedness with the natural world, and a less stressful gardening experience by working with rather than against nature.

Lead report author and RHS Sustainability Fellow Chloe Sutcliffe said: “Identifying a link between sustainable practices and perceived wellbeing in garden contexts was a welcome surprise for the research team.  It makes sense that making more sustainable choices is likely to benefit our wellbeing in the longer term, but it seems that doing so can directly benefit our wellbeing in the here and now too, something that policy makers and health professionals might tap into in order to deliver improved climate, biodiversity and human health outcomes”.

Sustainable gardening is explored in many of the gardens at this week’s RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. These include Buglife: The B-Lines Garden and The Moonshadow Moth Garden focusing on day and nighttime pollinators respectively, RHS Money Saving Garden which showcases the repurposing of materials and propagation techniques as well as RHS Peat Free Garden where every plant has been grown plug to plot in an environmentally considerate way. The charity has also introduced a new Green Award that will recognise the most sustainable spaces at the show according to construction, choice of materials, biodiversity, societal impact and innovation.

The RHS has also previously published a guide to gardening sustainably which includes going peat-free and composting, switching from mains water to rain water and planting a tree or flowers for pollinators. For the top ten visit: 10 ways to be more sustainable in your garden / RHS Gardening

For more information about the RHS Hampton Court Place Festival which starts on Tuesday 2nd July visit: RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival 2024 / RHS Gardening

The paper ‘Engagement in sustainable horticulture is associated with greater perceived health benefits amongst gardeners’ by Chloe Sutcliffe, Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, Mark Baudert Gush, Alistair Griffiths is published here

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