The King’s Fund has called for greater integration of gardening as a treatment in the health and social care system in a new report.
Commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme, the report, Gardens and health, encourages policymakers, the NHS, clinicians and local government to promote the use of gardens and gardening in improving health outcomes.
Crystal Oldman, Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive, said: “There are lots of nurses in the community who prescribe. It opens up possibilities if their clinical commissioning group commits to social prescribing.”
She added that nurses already understand the benefits of gardening for patients, but the report will provide them with evidence for their practice.
Targeting clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in particular, the report asks them to work with local councils to explore gardening as an opportunity for patients in social prescribing projects.
One such project has been led by trained nurses across 11 GP surgeries since 2013, where patients with long-term conditions can learn how to grow food in a safe and secure environment.
The report stresses the untapped resource of gardens as nearly 90% of UK households have one and half the population consider themselves to be gardeners.
David Buck, senior fellow of public health and health inequalities at The King’s Fund, and report author, said: “There is a wealth of evidence that links gardens and gardening with a wide range of health outcomes. We need to build on this evidence, and most importantly get it translated into policy and practice.”
Research cited in Gardens and health shows that access to gardens has a beneficial impact on a variety of mental illnesses, as well as heart disease, cancer and obesity.
Gardening has also been linked to alleviating the symptoms of dementia and improving balance in older people, which can prevent falls – a costly burden on the NHS.
Sarah Waller CBE, associate specialist at the University of Worcester’s Association for Dementia Studies, said: “Gardens can be so important to us particularly at difficult and painful times in our lives. Patients and residents in our health and social care system should have the opportunity to access therapeutic garden spaces wherever possible.”
The report comes ahead of the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens next week, where a number of the show gardens will recognise the social care benefits of gardening.