During their prime, Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir had waxed eloquent about nature’s ability to soothe and rejuvenate the soul, championing nature’s spiritual and restorative benefits. Today, modern science is taking heed of their message as ecotherapy enters the mainstream medical realm, with gardening, or horticultural ecotherapy, being prescribed to some patients at a medical practice in Manchester, England.
Doctors at the Cornbrook Medical Practice in Manchester, England have been prescribing some patients, who have anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, with a unique form of medicine — ecotherapy in the form of gardening. Each patient is given a dosage of plants, which should be cared for and then returned to the medical center after a set amount of time. Upon return, the patient will carefully transplant their plants into the center’s community garden.
The medical practice’s garden is now blooming with herbs, flowers and produce, including broccoli, cauliflower and kale. Many of the patients live in the city and have little to no access to green spaces, especially gardens, so the community garden offers them a place to nourish their assigned plants and mingle with others.
“Having something to care for brings so many benefits to people — especially for those who may not have a garden or be able to have pets,” said Augusta Ward, a medical secretary at Cornbrook Medical Practice. “The plant is then a reason to come back to the surgery and get involved in all the other activities in our garden and make new friends.”
Ecotherapy is not a modern concept. For one, poets like Romantic William Wordsworth and Transcendentalist Walt Whitman have recounted the harmony and inner joy that comes from contemplating nature’s majesty. While ecotherapy is an emerging Western healing art, it has long been in practice in Native American and Asian cultures.
Research has also shown that contact with nature heals, because it transforms us, helps us to unwind and boosts the body’s natural endorphins to relieve stress. Scientific evidence has revealed that reconnecting with nature elevates rates of health, immunity, fitness, stamina, self-esteem, social connection, happiness and well-being.
It is no wonder, then, that there are healthcare providers who are now giving “nature” and “garden” prescriptions to their patients. An added bonus is that horticultural ecotherapy offers a simple, cost-effective means of improving well-being.
“I’ve seen how our patients relax in the garden, and how they then get involved in wider events like picking litter, which all adds to pride in our area,” said Dr. Phillipa James, a general practitioner at the medical practice. “There’s a lot of evidence now about how two hours a week in a green space can lift mood — and then that, too, has physical, mental and emotional benefits. That’s something we need to harness.”
Image via Lukas