A dig a day keeps the doctor away

Published: 13 Mar 2019

For a range of needs, Sustain’s Maria Devereaux prescribes horticultural therapy to stay well.

This article first appeared in The Jellied Eel magazine issue 52, Autumn 2016 and updated for the Big Dig Day in March 2019

Whether recovering from surgery or cancer, suffering post-traumatic stress, experiencing a long term condition like diabetes, or feeling lonely, people of all ages in our city benefit from food growing. This was explored in 2016 by influential health think tank The King’s Fund who called for the NHS “to make more of the diverse health benefits of gardening in support of their priorities.”

This was the subject of Growing Health, a joint Sustain and Garden Organic project, which produced an evidence-based report on the positive impact on health and wellbeing of food growing. The benefits it found include reduced stress, better mobility, and healthier eating. Some London-based GPs and healthcare professionals are already ‘prescribing’ gardening to improve the mental and physical health of their patients, but we are calling for more to offer this cost-effective and often preventative treatment.

Pottering on prescription

Sydenham Garden started life at the back of a GP’s surgery 14 years ago. Now, it is commissioned by the Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group to provide gardening and craft sessions for adults experiencing mental health problems or with early stage dementia. Patients report improvements in their physical health, confidence, social interactions and general wellbeing, achieving rates of improvement similar or better than those achieved by other psychological interventions.

As one person said: “I’m sleeping better and have lost some weight. Most of all I’m mixing with people again outside the garden sessions. I’m less anxious and depressed and the work at the garden has contributed to me taking less medication.”

Other great projects scattered across London, such as Thrive’s garden in Battersea Park, The Maudsley Hospital or the many city farms, are hosting therapy-based sessions helping people with their health conditions. The Growing Health project has been promoting these and working to increase the number of health bodies supporting these services.  We also encourage people to use their ‘patient power’ by asking to be referred to a gardening club or nature-based therapy.  

A healthy hobby

Even if you don’t feel in need of ‘therapy’ as such, you can improve your wellbeing by getting outdoors and trying out a bit of gardening in a local community garden. TheGrow Well Feel Well day, organised by Capital Growth  demonstrated the range of benefits by co-hosting activities in 14 gardens from yoga to herbal tea making to foraging, all taking place away from the hustle and bustle of London life. 

“We have made it easy to find your local garden to get healthy at one of more than 3,000 gardens registered on our map,” points out Capital Growth’s Chris Speirs.

Community gardening is a great hobby, and there are so many reasons to do it, whether getting your hands on fresh and ‘free’ fruit and veg, a chance to meet your neighbours, learning great new skills, and even help to improve your local and global environment.

Get involved at the upcoming Big Dig 2019 on 27 April where gardens across the UK open up to visitors to learn more about the benefits of growing together. #BigDig2019