Why gardens are good for you

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 24 March 2019

The physical and mental health benefits of gardens.

Whether you’re walloping weeds, potting up plants or enjoying some peace in a quiet corner, most people recognise the calming effect of a garden.

Two of the designers creating show gardens for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) hope to highlight the therapeutic aspect of gardening, and the good news is you don’t need a huge space to create a sanctuary. 

Eltham-based Ben Hutchinson has one of the smallest sites at the show – about 120 square metres – but he has created a restful space where circular decking and a studio retreat overhang a pool fed by a small stream running through a native wildflower woodland. 

3d rendering of Ben Hutchinson’s garden design

Ben Hutchinson’s MIFGS design creates a bush-like setting for tech-free relaxation. 

white cat spreading out on red cushion

Ryan McMahon of MUSA Landscape Architecture partnered with beyondblue for his garden ‘Journey’. 

“Everyone is so flat-chat nowadays,” he explains. “I wanted to create a technology-free space where you could read a book or do yoga in a bush-like setting.”

Sydney-based Ryan McMahon of MUSA Landscape Architecture was inspired by his own experience of depression and loneliness to partner with mental health charity beyondblue and design a garden he calls ‘Journey’.

The British-born landscaper had always wanted to do a show garden and approached beyondblue a few years ago when he says he “was at a low point of my life professionally and personally; I had moved from the UK and felt that everything was going against me so I decided to turn it around”.

‘Journey’ represents both his move to Australia – having two homes and the connection with friends, family and landscapes – as well as his journey to an improved state of mind. “We’re always going to have these low periods in our lives and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Studies have found that contact with nature improves psychological health, reducing stress, lifting mood and  replenishing mental fatigue.

The main path through the garden – which includes sandstone and plants reminiscent of Ryan’s favourite getaway, the Blue Mountains – are loosely shaped like a plane’s wing, while another path represents the road to better health.

“In the beginning it’s very narrow and at an angle then the path gets easier to walk and you come across social spaces – this represents that we’re all bystanders to people we know having mental health problems and they might not initially want to socialise. The sunken fire pit surrounded by greenery is a semi-informal space to sit so it’s a bit more relaxing. 

“The main space is at the end of the path within a large metal structure loosely mirrored on an aeroplane body but made of metal bars peeling back … this represents when you’re at the end of your mental health journey you feel you can open up a bit and you’re asking for help. The patio is set up with table and chairs and is a bit more formal setting, where you’re connecting with friends and family again.” 

Six ways gardens are good for your health

  1. Studies have found that contact with nature improves psychological health, reducing stress, lifting mood and  replenishing mental fatigue. Even a view of greenery was found to help hospital patients, who needed less medication and recovered faster. Researchers found hospital gardens were visited nearly as much by stressed health workers as they were by patients. 
  2. Being away from nature takes its toll on astronauts and those based in Antarctica. NASA astronauts have set up hydroponic gardens, as has the Australian Antarctic Division’s team at Davis Station. 
  3. A study of allotment gardeners in the UK found that being physically active outdoors is even better for mental wellbeing than contact with nature alone. Even five minutes made a difference, and gardeners were less likely to be overweight, too. 
  4. Getting down and dirty can make you happy; a strain of bacterium in soil,  Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which elevates mood and decreases anxiety. A Danish study also found exposure to soil reduces the risk of allergies in children.
  5. Children with ADHD who played in a natural setting had milder symptoms than those playing in a built or indoor setting, according to US research. Another study found that even a 20-minute walk in a park boosted concentration for children with ADHD. 
  6. Prison gardening programs have been shown to enhance prisoners’ self-worth, to decrease aggression, and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show runs from March 27 to 31 at the Royal Exhibition Buildings and Carlton Gardens. RACV members save 10 per cent on single and multi-day tickets until 26 March when pre-purchased.

Need further help?

Need a hand with your garden? RACV Home Trades and Services can help you find the right tradie for the job.