Health benefits of winter garden visits

Research conducted by the National Garden Scheme confirms health benefits of visiting a garden in the dark days of winter.


Research has shown that visiting gardens can improve wellbeing, but most research tends to focus on the benefits of garden visits during summer. Little is known about the effects of visiting a garden in winter.

A sample of 416 visitors were asked to complete a survey examining the wellbeing benefits of visiting gardens open for the National Garden Scheme. 267 visitors completed the survey in winter (February 2023) and 149 in summer (June 2023). Their wellbeing was measured before and after visiting a garden, and the wellbeing of winter and summer visitors compared.

Key research findings:

  • Wellbeing significantly improved after visiting the gardens in winter. Visitors felt more relaxed, happy and excited in the gardens, and less stressed, sad and bored.
  • The more time visitors spent in the winter gardens, the higher their wellbeing.
  • The level of wellbeing was similarly high for visitors in winter and summer, suggesting that visiting gardens during either season is likely to carry benefits but the average level of wellbeing before entering the gardens in winter was lower than in summer, meaning that those visiting in winter showed the greatest increase in wellbeing.
  • The more nature visitors observed in the gardens, such as birds, insects, and water, the higher their wellbeing.
  • Visitors described, in their own words, a number of positive feelings while visiting the winter gardens. They felt relaxed and calm, happy and uplifted, interested and inspired, appreciative of the gardens, immersed and at one with nature, and hopeful for spring.
  • Visitors particularly liked the plants and flowers that could be found in the gardens during winter. Almost half of all visitors (47.6%) mentioned liking the snowdrops, 29.2% appreciated the emergence of spring growth, and 28.2% the scent of flowers like Daphne. A third of respondents (33.3%) also appreciated being able to see the structure, design and views of and from the garden, given the lower amount of foliage at that time of year.

“Our research suggests that visiting a garden in winter can be just as beneficial as visiting in summer, as long as you wrap up warm,” says report author, Dr Emma White. “This is an important finding, as we may notice ourselves getting out in to gardens less during a time which many consider to be dormant. But winter gardens can be full of life and interest. Our survey respondents felt that winter is the perfect time to observe the emergence of new growth and experience the unique joy of spring flowering bulbs. It is a great time to appreciate the structure of a well-designed garden, and respondents noticed lots of wildlife and beneficial natural features. So, whatever the season, we should all try to get out into gardens more, observe the plants and nature around us, and feel the benefits.”

“The National Garden Scheme has been championing the health benefits of garden visits since it first opened 609 garden gates in 1927. Now opening over 3,500 gardens a year we continue to advocate the improvement to wellbeing that a visit to a garden can generate. In 2016, we commissioned the King’s Fund to produce a report on the topic and began an annual funding programme to support gardens and health-related projects run by charities. A year later we launched our annual Gardens & Health programme to continue raising awareness of the impact gardens and gardening can have on everyone’s physical and mental health. This latest report builds on that work and illustrates what many gardeners and garden visitors know, that being in a garden really is good for you,” says, Garden Scheme chief executive, George Plumptre.

The full list of gardens to visit this season is available on the National Garden Scheme, but in a previous article we listed some of the favourite winter openings to look out for this year.