Doctors should prescribe gardening to people experiencing depression and other forms of physical and mental ill health.
That’s the view of Sir Richard Thompson, Thrive Patron and President of the Royal College of Physicians.
Sir Richard said: "I have, for some time, thought doctors should prescribe a course of gardening for people who come to them with depression or stroke.
"The new commissioning structures about to be introduced might allow more innovative treatment approaches to be put in place, including the opportunity to try gardening rather than prescribe expensive drugs."
Sir Richard said if doctors were able to spend more time talking with patients, a lot of problems could be overcome.
"Sadly, this cannot be the case under the NHS as most appointments can only last 10 minutes or less," he said.
"There are definite benefits to longer consultations – I would much rather a doctor had time to listen to their patients and instead of prescribing anti-depressants, prescribed a course of gardening, whether it is at Thrive or another garden project in the country."
Sir Richard is not downplaying any serious mental ill health condition, but firmly believes that gardening could do so much for so many people.
"Drug therapy can be really expensive, but gardening costs little and anyone can do it," he said.
He said gardens are restorative environments and credits Thrive, and other organisations with producing evidence showing gardening and being outdoors in a natural environment is good for you.
"I always wonder why people go to the gym when there is a 'green gym’ outdoors for us all, and what’s more it’s free.
"Gardening burns off calories, it makes joints supple and is fantastic exercise. Gardening as a physical activity has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of anxiety, depression and dementia."
Thrive’s research with Mintel shows 31 per cent of disabled people surveyed believe that gardening has ongoing health benefits, while almost one in five report that it has helped them through a period of mental or physical ill-health.
Sir Richard says Thrive’s research and programmes with stroke patients is exciting and has produced positive results.
On our stroke programme held at our gardens in Battersea Park, five out of seven participants reported outcomes experienced which reduced their dependence on NHS funding:
• no need for speech or physiotherapy sessions
• reduction/elimination of pain control medication
• reduction/elimination of sleep medication
The participants now meet for monthly gardening sessions at their homes. Six out of seven have changed their eating habits to include more fruit and vegetables and four now garden regularly and grow their own vegetables.
Sir Richard added: "Horticultural therapy is a sub group of occupational therapy but is more holistic. Research is key to standardising Social and Therapeutic Horticulture."