5 reasons gardening is good for your body and soul

The benefits of getting out and enjoying the garden extend well beyond positive feels – especially if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty.

There has been plenty of research to suggest exposure to green space or simply looking at greenery is good for our wellbeing, but there are many more health advantages when we actually roll up our sleeves and discover our inner green thumb.

A 2017 meta-analysis found gardening boosts mental, physical and social wellbeing, as well as cognitive function.

Why gardening is good for the soul

Gardening can help us engage in the present moment, unclutter our mind and reduce stress, according to horticulturalist Toni Salter, also known as The Veggie Lady.

“Simple tasks like watering, planting, potting, fertilising and removing spent flowers help us to focus rather than being distracted by our own thoughts,” Toni says.

A review of literature found gardening reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, while a UNSW report suggested pottering in the garden could help manage pandemic-related stress.

Working on a patch of turf is also very satisfying, according to plant ecologist Professor Angela Moles.

“The fact that you can see the effects of what you have done in the garden in an immediate tangible form can be very rewarding,” Prof Moles says.

Gardening provides a physical boost for young and old

The demands of keeping a garden vary from the strenuous to the gentle, so there’s a task to suit all ages and abilities, Toni says.

“Gardening provides light exercise for those who want to take it slowly and also a rigorous workout when mowing, digging and shoveling,” she says.

Older adults who immerse themselves in garden activities can get enough moderate physical activity to stay in shape and keep their hands nimble and strong, according to US research, while another study showed getting the kids involved in tasks such as raking and digging is a great way to keep them busy and boost their high-to-moderate physical activity.

Ways gardening can boost social ties

The joys of gardening don’t have to be restricted to your backyard, according to Prof Moles.

“Gardening on your nature strip, in a community garden, in a shared garden – such as the garden of your apartment block, or working in a local bush care group can be fantastic,” she says.

A study of community gardens in Melbourne found members enjoyed increased social connections, social cohesion and social support.

“Not only do you get the mental and physical health benefits, you get to build connections with people in your neighbourhood and feel like you are contributing to the wellbeing of the community,” Prof Moles says.

“I recently moved into a new place and changed our nature strip from a sad eroded patch of sandy lawn to a nice patch of native plants.

“While I did this, loads of people from our neighbourhood stopped as they were walking past, asked questions about what I was planting, gave me all sorts of positive feedback and offered cuttings from their own gardens.”

Gardening can protect your brain

Pruning the fruit trees, tidying up the leaves or repotting the succulents improves the look of your garden, but there is evidence it may also boost your cognitive function and could reduce risk of dementia.

Enjoy the nutritional benefits from your own garden

Not only does homegrown produce somehow taste better, food doesn’t come any fresher than what you pick from your garden.

And you are likely to eat more of the goodness you have grown, too, as research suggests adults who garden eat more fruit and vegetables than those who don’t.

While it is satisfying knowing where your produce has come from, experts warn there are still food safety considerations to keep in mind, such as avoid using chemicals, use only clean water and plant in an area animals are not likely to poop.

Ways to start gardening

There are many health benefits associated with tending a garden, and Prof Moles has the following tips to get you started:

  • Different plants thrive in different places, so start by looking around at what grows well in your local area.
  • Start small – don’t try to tackle the whole garden at once – doing one area at a time is much more rewarding, and allows you to plan what the space will look like.
  • Ask for advice from people who have gardening expertise – including people at nurseries, friends with nice gardens – and if you have a specific question, internet users can be amazingly helpful.
  • See if your local council runs a nursery – these often have plants that are well suited to your area, and are often much cheaper than plants at commercial nurseries.

Written by Claire Burke.