Patients’ well-being can be enhanced through gardening and plant-based activities, and the the practice of gardening has gained significant grounds in modern healthcare to promote patients’ health and well-being.

The visual appeal of gardens and the soothing effect that it brings are things that perhaps everyone can relate to. It is in fact the basis for horticultural therapy, a form of therapy that uses the therapeutic garden environment and promotes patients’ well-being through gardening and plant-based activities.

Although the concept was initially introduced to benefit individuals with mental illness, the benefits of gardening have been widely recognised and the practice has gained significant grounds in modern healthcare to promote patients’ health and well-being. A gardening project is a great initiative that can be implemented in hospitals for this purpose.

The following are five reasons why hospitals should consider starting a gardening project:

1. Stress relief

Findings from a research published in the Journal of Health Psychology have shown that gardening can promote neuroendocrine and relief from acute stress by decreasing cortisol levels. In the study, subjects performed a stressful task and were then randomly assigned to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening or indoor reading.

Results showed that although both activities led to decreases in cortisol, the decreases were significantly stronger in the group that performed gardening.
This can therefore be a good activity for hospital patients as it allows them to escape from the intense, adverse situations in the wards or during treatment.

2. A fruitful experience

Gardening can be a very rewarding activity for both patients and staff at the hospital since it allows them to reap the benefits from their work. The garden at Glengarry Memorial Hospital, Canada, which was initially established as a therapeutic garden, is a good example.

The garden now has over 50 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs which are eaten by patients and staffs. The hospital was included in a study conducted by Carleton University students to examine the physical, mental and social benefits of therapeutic gardens.

3. Restoring attention and focus through exposure to nature

A few studies were also conducted to examine the benefits of exposure to a natural environment in restoring attention and focus. One such study showed that a group of women with newly diagnosed breast cancer who were subjected to the intervention protocol involving 120 minutes of exposure to the natural environment per week showed greater capacity to direct attention.

Another study found, through the performance of an attentional test, that results improved for individuals walking in a nature reserve as compared to in an urban setting. This can also benefit patients with attention deficits due to internal or external negative stimuli secondary to clinical entities such as pain, post-stroke sequelae, head trauma, anxiety, depression or dementia.

4. Opportunity to socialise

The garden can serve as a natural outdoor space where patients and staffs can relax, engage with nature and socialise with each other, away from the indoor hospital setting.

For individuals with a significantly greater need for help and support, such as people with psychiatric disabilities, gardening activities can provide opportunities for empowerment and competence. By sharing the responsibility and tasks to maintain the garden, patients and staffs will also develop better interaction with one another.

5. Allows the community to contribute

Another great benefit of starting a gardening project at the hospital is that it has the potential to be developed further into a community support programme, an event that could benefit not only patients and staffs, but also the community as a whole.

Invitation to contribute to the garden can be extended to patients’ families, friends and relatives, as well as organisations such as schools and clubs. This in turn will create a shared sense of togetherness and pride among members of the community. MIMS

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