Growing just a few ornamental plants — such as daffodils or petunias — in a bare front garden can make people feel happier and less stressed, a study found.
Experts led from the Royal Horticultural Society planted blooms including azaleas, clematis and lavender in yards in low-income areas of Salford, Greater Manchester.
They then monitored the stress levels of the residents participating in the study — and explored how the additions to their gardens made them feel.
The researchers recruited 42 residents — involving a total of 38 gardens — for the study, although some received their plants only after a year as so that they could serve as a control group in the meantime.
Residents were each given one tree, one shrub, one climber and enough smaller plants, bulbs and bedding plants to fill two containers.
They were not required to look after the plants, as the containers could ‘self water’ as they had a 22-litre in-built reservoir — the participants were encouraged to take part by gardening their plot, with help from the Royal Horticultural Society advisors.
The team measured each residents’ levels of key stress response hormone cortisol both before and after the plants were added.
They found a higher proportion of healthy daytime cortisol patterns after planting, suggesting that the residents had a better health status.
The research found that only 24 per cent of residents had healthy cortisol patterns before the plants went in, but over the year following the greening of the front gardens, this increased to 53 per cent.
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More than half of the residents in the trial said that their new garden helped them to feel happier, while two-fifths reported that the garden help them to relax and just over a quarter said that it helped them to get closer to nature.
In-depth interviews concluded that the garden motivated people to do more gardening and renovate other areas of their property.
Residents also reported feeling the garden relaxing, adding that it gave them a sense of pride in their home, while all of them noted that the plants made them feel more cheerful and lifted their spirits when they looked at them.
‘We can now further evidence the vital need to incorporate plants into our front gardens and domestic spaces,’ said paper author and Royal Horticultural Society well-being fellow Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui.
‘This will require a change in the way we strategize, design, plan and build our living spaces,’ she added.
‘The stress reduction data is startling, in that we found such a significant response with just a relatively small number of plants.’
‘Now we know that access to even a tiny patch of nature has beneficial effects for our health. Re-greening our neighbourhoods is really important.’
‘So many millions more people [are] gardening after discovering a passion to grow during lockdown, said the Royal Horticultural Society’s Alistair Griffiths.
‘The RHS hopes this research inspires more people to plant a few plants — from containers and window boxes to hedges and trees — in their street-side outside spaces,’ he added.
‘This research highlights the essential role of private gardens and the horticulture and landscape industry in delivering natural capital that improves the health of our nation.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.