There have been many studies that have documented the health benefits associated with gardening. Still, far less research has focused on why people garden. With an estimated 49% of the adult population that engages in gardening and 24 million home gardens for 66 million people, why is gardening a popular activity in the UK? The study by Chalmin-Pui and colleagues1 published in February 2021 in the journal Cities investigated the attitudes associated with domestic gardening and the degree gardening is viewed as a healthy or therapeutic activity in the UK. The researchers sought answers to four questions.
- What are one’s reasons for gardening?
- Does gardening improve health outcomes?
- What neighborhood factors influence health and well-being?
- What factors, particularly proportion, influence personal satisfaction with one’s garden?
A questionnaire was created to assess respondents’ attitudes, motivations, and health and presented to self-declared gardeners (n=5766) and non-gardeners (n=249) over age 18 using the Qualtrics website platform over five months in 2016-2017. The research and questionnaire were publicized on the Royal Horticultural Society website and the BBC News webpage. The questionnaire included a psychometric assessment instrument to gauge stress, the Perceived Stress Scale. Linear and logistic regression models were fitted to the quantitative data collected by the questionnaires. Potentially confounding demographic characteristics of age, gender, income, and housing type were factored into the results. A total of 6914 responses were received, and 6015 were used in the analyses presented. Most respondents were older, female, and owned their homes.
Most respondents indicated they gardened for pleasure and enjoyment, and this seemed to be the main reason people garden. About one in four reported at least one of the following reasons for gardening:
- Sensory stimulation.
- Generic health benefits.
- Seeing plants and flowers grow.
- Personal expression and self-identity.
- Love of the activity.
Fewer than one in five gardener respondents gardened for growing food or for their own perceived well-being.
Well-being scores decreased as the frequency of gardening activity decreased from daily to monthly or less for both women and men. Gardening mediated well-being was independent of respondent’s education level or gender but influenced by housing type, respondent’s age, and income level higher versus lower. Well-being increased with increasing respondents age up to 75 but then decreased. Accordingly, it is not surprising that scores for perceived stress were lowest for respondents that gardened daily and highest for those that never gardened. Like well-being, housing type, income, and age influenced gardening mediated responses for perceived stress. For many gardening activities, physical exertion is involved; therefore, it follows that as the frequency of gardening decreased, so did the days per week physical activity reported by the respondents, and this was true for both men and women. Quantitatively, the study revealed that well-being scores increased by 1.84 units for individuals that garden daily, Perceived Stress Scale scores decreased by 1.68 units, and physical activity increased by 1.42 days per week.
Well-being and perceived stress were lower and higher, respectively, as the perception of the neighborhood was reported more negative. Respondents that expressed a strong community spirit and gardened tended to have a more positive influence on their well-being, and as expected well-being decreased as the perception of community spirit decreased. Similarly, as community spirit decreased, perceived stress increased. Those who viewed their neighborhood positively were found to be more satisfied with their front garden.
Gardeners were more satisfied with their garden areas than non-gardeners, and the degree of happiness with their front gardens was a function of an increasing proportion of vegetation coverage.
The researchers concluded that frequent gardening is associated with reduced perceived stress and increased well-being and physical activity, suggesting potential health benefits for sedentary urban populations.
1Suyin Chalmin-Pui, L.S., Griffiths, A., Roe, J., Heaton, T., Cameron, R. Why garden? – Attitudes and the perceived health benefits of home gardening. Cities. 112, 103118. (2021).
Charles Guy, Emeritus and Courtesy Professor
Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of Florida