In the UK 87% of households have access to a domestic garden (Gibbons et al., 2011). Domestic gardens constitute a significant proportion of the urban green space and therefore have huge potential for untold environmental and health benefits. Below are just some of the ways your garden can improve your health both mental and physical.
Plants and Trees are linked with the removal of pollutants from the air. In the US, urban trees alone remove 711,000 metric tons of pollutants annually. This isn’t just carbon sequestration, there are a long list of other volatile organic compounds that plants remove from the air. The removal of these pollutants improve air quality and improved air quality is again linked with a plethora of health benefits including allergies and respiratory disease. The Grand Designs Health House is a good example of where plants have been used to improve the air quality in and around their home.
Some plants and trees are better than others at removing pollutants from the air and there is evidence to suggest that it isn’t only the plant itself but the soil, microorganisms and other unknown biological which contribute to the efficiency of a plant in capturing pollutants. A good landscape designer or horticulturalist with an environmental focus should be able to advise you on the best plants to use to benefit your garden.
Nature and Health
Being in nature is linked with positive outcomes in almost all aspects of health. Connection with nature is linked with reduced prevalence of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, depression, anxiety, diabetes, lower blood pressure, improved birth outcomes, improved recovery from surgery and improved cognitive function. Your garden is one of the easiest ways to have regular connect with nature and therefore begin to feel the positive effects the natural world has to offer.
Health in Children
Access to green space and nature has been associated with improved mental wellbeing, overall health and cognitive development of children. It promotes attention restoration, memory, competence, supportive social groups, self-discipline, moderates stress, improves behaviours and symptoms of ADHD and was even associated with higher standardised test scores (McCormick, 2017)
There are also hypotheses supporting connection with nature teaching your child skills risk management skills and the ability to keep themselves safer. For an introduction to understanding the importance of nature to the health and development of children try reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.
Simply put, the more time a person spends outside, the more physically active they are likely to be. There are lots of studies linking the effects of nature/time spent outdoors to physical activity. People who connect with nature less tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles and as a result suffer many of the detrimental health outcomes linked to those lifestyles; such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. The term green exercise was coined by Essex University in 2003 and refers to the huge variety of health benefits that can be gained (both physically and psychologically) from exercising in nature and where better to start than with a spot of gardening in your own garden.
Plant a Tree
You may have heard of the Japanese concept of Shirin Yoku or Forest Bathing. This is more than just a “nice to do”. It has real roots in science with time spent in forest being linked to an increase in anti-cancer cells and even retaining this benefit several weeks after exposure. Time spent in forests is also linked with a decrease in cytokines (implicated in chronic disease), improved immunity, decreased cardiovascular and respiratory disease and reduced stress. Trees are also effective in carbon capture, thus improving air quality. In fact, the best advice in terms of health and sustainability I can give in terms of your garden is: If you only do one thing, plant a tree.
Healthy garden, healthy home
There is evidence to suggest that to get the best health outcomes landscape designers should design with an inside out as well as outside in perspective. The truth is good landscape designers already do. Think about the design of your home; number one on most people’s check lists is the connection between outside and in. Architects work hard to create buildings that sit well in their environment using well placed windows, glass doors, indoor courtyards and framing techniques that shape the way your space feels. However, these techniques only work to their truest function if the landscape works with the building. Many of the health benefits mentioned above can also be associated with viewing a landscape so even if you prefer to be inside, just viewing onto a well-designed garden can still add value to your health and home.
These ideas only scratch the surface of the benefits of your garden to your health. Considered garden design will also impact your behaviour, link to light, privacy, views, connection to nature, relationships and much more.
If you want to explore health design further, do pop to see us at stand E4B in the Grand Gardens section. Studio 31 are a landscape architecture and garden design practice specialising in sustainable and research-led health design.