This site is intended for health professionals only

Gardens and health: Growing in importance

Recognising the value of being outside and working with nature, the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the National Garden Scheme have kick-started the creation of a series of new garden projects aimed at impacting on people’s health, says Bethan Cornick

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) and the National Garden Scheme (NGS) have launched five new gardens and health projects for 2023. The projects are funded by the NGS Elsie Wagg (Innovation) Scholarship programme, which was named after the QNI council member who had the idea to create the NGS in 1927. Each project will receive £5,000 of funding and a one-year professional development programme delivered by the QNI. Community nurses will lead the projects, which are all targeted at individuals with specific health needs. In early 2024, the projects will submit their final reports to the QNI.

‘Sanctuary’ is a garden being created in Gloucester for women with serious mental health issues. The garden will provide a space for women to meet up, attend therapy sessions, and participate in exercise groups. It is known that access to green space is associated with improved mental health outcomes1, and that even a passive viewing of green space can improve mood and change brain activity in depressed patients.2 Project leaders Angela Willan and Claire Holloway hope the Sanctuary garden will similarly have ‘positive mental health outcomes and increase life satisfaction’.

The Greener Care Home Project in Staffordshire is providing four care homes with five deep planters to encourage residents to get gardening. ‘The project incorporates the NHS Green Plan into our care home network using social prescribing, offering well-being sessions and empowering care coordinators to provide green space and facilitate gardening sessions’, says Carolyn Fleurat, who is leading the project with Anna Redpath. Social prescribing is used in primary care to provide non-pharmacological solutions to health problems and has been shown to improve wellbeing and decrease pressures on healthcare.3

Gardening is particularly beneficial for elderly care home residents, as for every 10% increase in green space exposure the health improvements that have been observed are equivalent to a five-year decrease in age.4 Moreover, it is estimated that 70% of care home residents have dementia or severe memory problems5 and gardening has been shown to decrease the risk of dementia by 36%.6 Access to an enriched garden space also improves cognitive function and increases independence in care home residents.7

In Lancashire, the New Longton Wellbeing Scheme is turning wasteland at the back of a GP surgery into a garden which they hope will be a new hub for the village. Nurses in the practice plan to host gardening groups for patients with long term health conditions, and the practice’s social prescriber will use the garden to tackle community loneliness.

Corrie Llewellyn QN, who is leading the project with Lindsey Whiteley, says the garden will avoid the use of pesticides and focus on growing fresh produce that can be shared with the community. Besides the well-known benefits of gardening for the environment, green space can also have wider, indirect environmental effects on individual and population health. Gardens can reduce air pollution, flooding risk, and noise pollution, which over time may reduce the prevalence of some health problems, such as respiratory issues, water-borne diseases and hearing loss respectively.

To improve the mental health of fathers in the community, Botanical Brothers are creating a garden in East London. Project leaders Fawn Bess-Leith QN and Mfon Archibong want to create a space for fathers to open up, raise awareness about mental health, and improve access to mental health services. With a 10.4% prevalence of paternal depression between the first trimester and first year of an infant’s life8 there is a clear need to emotionally support fathers with initiatives such as these.

Gardening facilitates ‘green exercise’ for example through planting, weeding, and mowing, providing a way to meet exercise recommendations, while also improving mental wellbeing. Green exercise reduces stress and depression, while also increasing self-esteem and mood.9 Through the mental and physical health improvements gained from planning and creating the garden, the fathers will hopefully see benefits in their parent-child relationship.

At the Dorking Community Hospital in Surrey, the Grow Together Share Together project aims to regenerate the hospital’s garden. The garden is adjacent to the community rehabilitation ward and will be used to help patient recovery. Shorter post operative recoveries and reduced reliance on painkillers has been observed in patients who can observe nature from their hospital beds10, showing the potential benefits of green space for rehabilitation. The project is being led by Simon Littlefield and Laura Price who also want the garden to be a space for staff to unwind and for young and old generations to be brought together.

The NGS Elsie Wagg Scholarships are awarded annually. Applications to run projects in 2024 will be advertised in late summer 2023 on the QNI’s website:

Bethan Cornick is policy and communications intern at the QNI


  1. Callaghan, A., McCombe, G., Harrold, A., McMeel, C., Mills, G., Moore-Cherry, N. and Cullen, W. (2020). The impact of green spaces on mental health in urban settings: a scoping review. Journal of Mental Health, 30(2), pp.1–15. doi:
  2. Olszewska-Guizzo, A., Fogel, A., Escoffier, N., Sia, A., Nakazawa, K., Kumagai, A., Dan, I. and Ho, R. (2022). Therapeutic garden with contemplative features induces desirable changes in mood and brain activity in depressed adults. Frontiers in Psychiatry, [online] 13, p.757056. doi:
  3. Drinkwater, C., Wildman, J. and Moffatt, S. (2019). Social prescribing. BMJ, 364(364), p.l1285.
  4. De Vries, S., Verheij, R.A., Groenewegen, P.P. and Spreeuwenberg, P. (2003). Natural Environments—Healthy Environments? An Exploratory Analysis of the Relationship between Greenspace and Health. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 35(10), pp.1717–1731. doi:
  5. Alzheimer’s Society (2023). Facts for the media. [online] Alzheimer’s Society. Available at:
  6. Simons, L.A., Simons, J., McCallum, J. and Friedlander, Y. (2006). Lifestyle factors and risk of dementia: Dubbo Study of the elderly. Medical Journal of Australia, [online] 184(2), pp.68–70. doi:
  7. Bourdon, E. and Belmin, J. (2021). Enriched gardens improve cognition and independence of nursing home residents with dementia: a pilot controlled trial. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 13(1). doi:
  8. Garthus-Niegel, S., Staudt, A., Kinser, P., Haga, S.M., Drozd, F. and Baumann, S. (2020). Predictors and Changes in Paternal Perinatal Depression Profiles—Insights From the DREAM Study. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. doi:
  9. Rogerson, M., Wood, C., Pretty, J., Schoenmakers, P., Bloomfield, D. and Barton, J. (2020). Regular Doses of Nature: The Efficacy of Green Exercise Interventions for Mental Wellbeing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5), p.1526. doi:
  10. Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(4647), pp.420–421. doi: