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Client gardeners planting flowers in pots
There are urgent calls for more investment and research into the benefits of therapeutic gardening after a study revealed that this activity had helped reduce loneliness during the pandemic.

Researchers at the University of Essex tracked a group of people with a range of mental health issues as they worked on community garden projects throughout the Covid 19 pandemic. Starting in 2019, the study followed the group who attended a community garden scheme run by the charity, Trust Links Therapeutic gardening at Trust Links - Growing Together for three years.

While national wellbeing levels plummeted in the UK, the study found that activities such as sowing seeds, weeding and tending plants and flowers were beneficial to improving mental health, with the group self-reporting that their satisfaction and wellbeing levels had increased by 9%.

Study lead, Dr Carly Wood, said, “Incredibly the study used data collected before the coronavirus forced the world into unprecedented lockdowns and captured the benefits that nature-based therapeutic interventions can have in a time of crisis.”

Dr Wood believes there’s growing evidence to support the upscaling of nature-based interventions for the treatment of mental ill-health: “The pandemic drew this clearly into focus and showed that even as we coped with unprecedented disruption and upheaval, community gardening has the power to help some of society's most vulnerable people.”

...our Growing Together therapeutic community gardening projects have a powerful impact on mental health and wellbeing, improving connections with other people, providing positive activities, giving people's lives meaning and hope...

Matt King, Trust Links Chief Executive

The work, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, studied 53 volunteers as they worked in the gardens. With the majority being regular attendees to the charity’s gardens, the research showed loneliness decreased whilst wellbeing and life satisfaction rose.

Trust Links welcomed the study and hopes more will be done to evaluate the benefits of therapeutic horticulture. Trust Links' chief executive, Matt King said: "Through this evaluation with the University of Essex, it’s clear that our Growing Together therapeutic community gardening projects have a powerful impact on mental health and wellbeing, improving connections with other people, providing positive activities, giving people's lives meaning and hope and enabling people to spend time outdoors with nature. Further investment in these services will help reduce demand on the NHS and social care, helping us to grow communities and transform lives."

Dr Wood concluded, “I'm hoping this study will show the power of therapeutic community gardening and inspire more research into its benefits."

For more information Wood, C.J., et al. (2022) The Impact of Therapeutic Community Gardening on the Wellbeing, Loneliness, and Life Satisfaction of Individuals with Mental Illness. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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