Story at a glance
- Study participants who completed eight gardening sessions reported lower levels of anxiety and stress.
- Researchers believe the mental health benefits of working with plants could be a result of human evolution.
- They hope future studies will use this research as a foundation for larger trials.
The physical and mental health benefits of being in nature have been long-established, especially for those with existing medical conditions. Now, a new pilot study found gardening can also yield mental health benefits, even among those who have never gardened before.
Researchers at the University of Florida conducted the study among 32 healthy female volunteers who were randomly assigned to complete gardening tasks or art-making activities for comparison.
Fifteen women who had never gardened before attended gardening classes two times a week, for a total of eight sessions. These participants reported lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression, while individuals who completed art activities also reported therapeutic improvements in mood and depression. All women were between the ages 26 and 49.
“Both gardening and art activities involve learning, planning, creativity and physical movement, and they are both used therapeutically in medical settings,” said co-author Charles Guy in a press release. “This makes them more comparable, scientifically speaking, than, for example, gardening and bowling or gardening and reading.”
In the art sessions, participants completed papermaking, printmaking and collages while those who gardened learned how to sow seeds and harvest and transplant plants.
Despite comparable mental health benefits observed in each group, gardeners reported slightly less anxiety compared with art makers.
Larger scale studies are needed to better understand the relationship between gardening and mental health, although researchers hypothesized the link may be due to how humans evolved, relying on plants for food and shelter throughout history.
“We believe this research shows promise for mental wellbeing, plants in healthcare and in public health. It would be great to see other researchers use our work as a basis for those kinds of studies,” Guy said.
Many of the study participants expressed desires to keep gardening after the study was complete.