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Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice

This report looks at the impact of gardens and gardening on health and wellbeing, and explores what the NHS and the wider health and social care system can do to maximise this impact.

Gardens are often thought of as intimate private spaces attached to private households but they can also be large private or formal gardens open to the public, or part of hospitals, care homes or hospices. Gardens serve many purposes: they can be cultivated for flowers or growing food; used as spaces for exercise, relaxation, solace and recovery; used as places to play, meet and volunteer; and can be part of wider environmental, planning or sustainability policies.

Half of the adult population in England report being involved in gardening, and it is an important activity throughout our lives, reaching a peak just after retirement and declining as we age further. However, as we age it becomes relatively more important as other pastimes and activities reduce more quickly.

Gardens are therefore important to our health due to the numbers of people who engage with them in many different ways and for different reasons.

This report has three aims:

• to bring together in one place and make sense of the wide range of literature on gardens and wellbeing, demonstrating how gardens and gardening are related to health across the life-course, from schools to family life and into older age
• to demonstrate how gardening interventions have an important place in the NHS and wider health and care system, particularly given the focus on greater integration of health services, social care and prevention, and on working with people as citizens within communities rather than just as patients
• to place ‘gardens and health’ within the current strategic health policy context, proposing recommendations on how gardening – if brought into the mainstream – can be an important mechanism for reaching health policy goals, nationally and locally.

Gardens are intimately connected to our health and wellbeing across the life-course. There is much more that the health and social care system can do to take advantage of our love affair with gardening, but there are four specific areas of good practice: in social prescribing; community gardens, volunteering and recovery from illness; dementia care; and end-of-life care.