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Research focus
Gardening is increasingly recognised as a
social activity that has positive implications
for health. This research focus describes
three studies that explore its health benefits.
Collective efficacy in Denver,
Colorado: strengthening
neighborhoods and health
through community gardens
This qualitative study aimed to explore the
social processes involved in community
gardening, and to explain the connections
between gardens, garden participation and
health. Semi-structured interviews and focus
groups were held with 67 active garden
leaders and community gardeners who had
a plot in a community garden in Denver,
Colorado, United States.
It was found that the social processes
involved in community gardening included
the development of social connections, in
particular for people who were challenged
by other forms of social interaction. These
were reciprocity, such as sharing recipes and
garden produce, mutual trust and collective
decision-making. Garden activities that
supported these social processes included
volunteer activity, leadership activity, and
organised neighbourhood activity such as
community workdays and picnics.
The authors argue that while community
gardens will also face conflict and tensions,
they can be a positive social influence in a
neighbourhood, and the collective activities
associated with them have the potential to
be applied more broadly to affect improving
health in the surrounding neighbourhood.
Teig E, Amulya J, Bardwell L et al (2009)
Health & Place. 15, 4, 1115-1122.
Physical and psychological
health conditions of older
adults classified as gardeners
or nongardeners
This study aimed to compare the physical,
psychological health conditions and leisuretime activities, in particular physical activity, of
older gardeners and non-gardeners. Fifty three
adults aged between 58 and 86 years were
recruited from community locations including
14 December 2009 | Volume 19 | Number 10
gardening clubs, churches and exercise
classes in Manhattan, Kansas, United States.
Using the Community Healthy Activities
Model for seniors questionnaire, they were
classified into three groups: active gardeners,
gardeners and non-gardeners, to determine
the health effects of gardening as a form of
physical activity. Physical and mental health
conditions were identified using the SF36
health survey. Hand strength and pinch force
were examined using hand dynamometer
and pinch gauge, and bone mineral density
(BMD) was determined by dual-energy X-ray
The study found that there were no
differences in mental health across the three
groups. All participants were active, but
the physical health of active gardeners was
significantly different from gardeners and
non-gardeners, and both types of gardeners
had greater hand strength and pinch force
than nongardeners. There was no difference
in BMD across the groups, but all had higher
scores than the standard BMD for their age.
The authors conclude that gardening promotes
overall physical health, hand strength and
pinch force, but recommend further research
is needed to examine the health benefits of
gardening by considering it as an exercise
Park S, Shoemaker CA, Haub MD (2009)
HortScience. 44, 1, 206-210.
Group gardening in
mental outpatient care
This pilot study aimed to assess whether
group gardening was a suitable way to
contribute to the rehabilitation of mental
outpatients. Weekly group gardening sessions
were held on a plot in a park in Helsinki,
Finland for a group of mental outpatients and
their voluntary support persons.
Researchers observed and recorded the
gardening activities and social processes of
the group during 17 sessions. Participants
were provided with a diary to record their
gardening experiences that they returned at
the end of the season, and were given a 59
item self-completion questionnaire at the end
of the season which they were asked to return
within one month. This included questions
related to self-rated gardening skills, social
interaction, and health-related effects such as
concentration, mood, pain, sleep and fitness.
Getty Images
Gardening has physical and mental benefits
Between one and ten participants attended
each week. All participants took part in
sowing, planting, nurturing and harvesting.
Participants’ involvement was motivated
through an interest in plants, spending time
outdoors, the involvement in meaningful
work and opportunities for social interaction.
The voluntary support people were also
motivated by the chance to learn new skills.
All respondents felt that visiting the plot
helped their ability to concentrate, and the
majority felt more cheerful and invigorated
after gardening. Half of respondents reported
sleeping better after visiting the plot.
In evaluating the method, the authors
reported questionnaires and diaries were not
the best method in particular for those with
difficulties in written or verbal expression.
The pilot was further limited, as data were
not collected about medical conditions, and
respondents expressed a preconception that
gardening was good for the health. The
authors conclude that gardening can provide
a feasible way to support the recovery of
individuals with mental disorders, but more
suitable and reliable methods are needed to
evaluate the effects on health.
Rappe E, Koivunen T, Korpela E (2008)
Therapeutic Communities. 29, 3, 273-284.
Research focus has been compiled by
Louise Joly, research consultant,
Social Care Workforce Research
Unit, Kings College London
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