The more sustainable one’s gardening, the better for you & planet

Scientists at the Royal Horticultural Society have found that gardening sustainably the higher the perceived levels of wellbeing as well as being better for the planet

RHS Peat Free Garden RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival
2024 RHS Peat-Free Garden (RHS Hampton)

The research, published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening reveals for that taking a more sustainable approach to managing the garden has a positive impact not only on the environment but can also make people feel better compared with adopting a less green approach. The research and associated paper entitled, Engagement in sustainable horticulture is associated with greater perceived health benefits amongst gardeners’ was conducted by Chloe Sutcliffe, Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, Mark Baudert Gush, Alistair Griffiths.

A survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) amongst 2,000+ people about their gardening habits, revealed that 83% of those that gardened considering it positive for their overall health and wellbeing, with the greatest benefits perceived for mental health followed by physical and social health.

Those gardeners who said they actively supported wildlife or limited their environmental footprint perceived higher overall health and wellbeing benefits from gardening. The most common activities undertaken by those surveyed included avoiding the use of pesticides (62%), growing plants for bees and other pollinators (58%), and watering with rainwater or recycled greywater (43.8%).

Sustainable gardening, the research suggests, is thought to benefit people in six key ways:

  • improving environments for supporting human health
  • enhancing opportunities for psychological restoration
  • higher engagement in physical activity
  • wider or stronger social network bonds incorporating nature connectedness
  • providing a higher degree of continuous learning
  • and a sense of extended care-giving to the wider environment

For example, hand weeding expends more energy than applying weedkiller, as does using a watering can over a hose, or making, turning and mulching compost over buying an equivalent, while sustainable gardening also provides more opportunity for reflection and restoration through the experience of greater connectedness with the natural world, and a less stressful gardening experience by working with rather than against nature.

Lead report author and RHS Sustainability Fellow Chloe Sutcliffe said: “Identifying a link between sustainable practices and perceived wellbeing in garden contexts was a welcome surprise for the research team. It makes sense that making more sustainable choices is likely to benefit our wellbeing in the longer term, but it seems that doing so can directly benefit our wellbeing in the here and now too, something that policy makers and health professionals might tap into in order to deliver improved climate, biodiversity and human health outcomes”.