Gardening – Antidote to Depression

Trellis (the Scottish Therapeutic Gardening Network) promotes gardening as a means of combating depression. Reports of higher than ever anti-depressant use in Scotland mean the case for alternatives to medication for treating depression has never been more persuasive. Trellis is keen to point out the benefits of gardening for mental, physical and social health.

The concept of gardening-as-therapy is almost as old as the practice of gardening itself. To the physicians of Egypt’s Pharaohs, a spell in the palace gardens was the best prescription for poorly courtiers. Irish monks of the Middle Ages cared for disturbed fellows using gardening as a remedy. In 1798, Benjamin Rush, American social visionary, wrote, ‘…Digging the soil has a curative effect on troubled souls.’

Closer to home, the 1856 Dorset County Asylum log bears the entry ‘…male patients shall be employed in gardening and husbandry…to promote cheerfulness and happiness.’ Underpinning therapeutic gardening initiatives is the concept of ‘Biophilia’ (meaning ‘love of life’) defined by Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson as our human tendency to seek connections with other living things. We have a deep affinity with nature: indeed our health may depend on it. One classic study of patients recovery after surgery found that those who were afforded a view of nature from their hospital beds recovered more quickly and used fewer painkillers  (Ulrich 1984).

The theory that gardening is good for your mental health is borne out by the experiences of those who take part in therapeutic gardening projects. ‘It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.’ One gardener, working near Glasgow, expresses the sense of hope that working closely with nature’s cycles of dormancy and re-growth can bring. In the bleak midwinter, when everything seems dead, gardeners know that nature will dependably push through the frozen earth each Spring, no matter how bad the weather. Life goes on.

Trellis supports therapeutic gardening projects throughout Scotland, believing there is huge scope to prescribe gardening as an alternative/ compliment to medication. Therapeutic and community gardening groups are thriving across the country on islands and crofts, in cities, woodlands and parks, on allotments, in schools, prisons and hospital grounds; contact Trellis for further information on local groups near you.

Trellis is the national Scottish charity that supports, promotes and develops the use of horticulture to improve health, well-being and life opportunities for all.  More than 300 therapeutic gardening projects belong to (or are accessible via) the Trellis network and benefit from networking and training opportunities, as well as the information service that Trellis provides.  Many projects within the Trellis networks can provide training and work experience for socially-excluded individuals, support rural and urban jobs and provide valuable volunteering opportunities.  Gardening projects are also provided by the NHS and other agencies as part of rehabilitation programmes for people suffering from strokes, illness, drug rehabilitation and serious trauma.

In celebration of their tenth anniversary, Trellis is running a ‘Grow Your Cake and Eat it’ competition! You can enter your cake at Gardening Scotland (3-5 June) or the Dundee Flower and Food Festival (2-4 Sept)

For more information:Trellis Scotland

This article has been updated from its first publication in Lothian Life on 29th January 2010


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