This piece was originally posted on Medium. It’s the first thing I’ve published on the platform and, to be honest, it hasn’t been an overnight success. In fact, it has been read by precisely no one. On the grounds that it deserves at least a little more attention, I’m reposting it here on the website while I spend some time trying to crack the code for getting read on Medium!
How gardening can help people, pollinators & the planet
Gardens are good for you, this much has been scientifically proven. But beyond this, new research is showing how gardens could be key in providing solutions to three of the most pressing issues of our modern lives… mental health, loss of biodiversity and climate change.
A recent Royal Horticultural Society survey found that 70% of respondents felt that gardening had helped support their mental health during lockdown. Recognition of the importance of a garden in their lives led over half of people surveyed to say they now placed greater value on their gardens. With this in mind, now is a great time to re-evaluate how important gardens are for our own health, and for the health of the planet. Because, grown in the right way, gardens can help mitigate the effects of a changing climate and provide habitats for dwindling wildlife communities, all while providing us with the green space we crave.
Grow your way to good mental health
Just being outdoors, spending time in nature is a great way to destress and reset in our busy world. As humans have pushed out natural ecosystems to make way for urban development and agriculture, many people are now reporting a feeling of disconnection from nature. Gardening gets us outside and is the perfect way to reconnect. Caring for plants brings purpose to our lives, while getting involved with community groups can help reduce anxiety and social isolation. There’s even evidence that just looking at green spaces has a relaxing effect and can shorten recovery time for hospital patients.
And for grow your own enthusiasts there’s especially good news… a recent study from the USA found that gardening increased emotional wellbeing for urban dwellers, particularly among those who were growing vegetables rather than ornamentals.
It’s no secret that bees and other pollinators are struggling, but the problem of biodiversity loss runs much deeper. Since the 1950s more than 97% of species-rich grasslands have been lost from the UK, and the last state of nature report listed 15% of the UK’s assessed species as being threatened with extinction, while a huge 41% showing decreased abundance and/or distribution.
Private gardens are estimated to cover about 10 million acres… that’s more than all the nature reserves combined. Any one garden might seem too small to make an impact, but together these spaces add up to a significant resource. We know from experience that small individual changes can make a big difference… after shoppers switched to using reusable bags, supermarkets saw a 90% drop in demand for single use carrier bags. Individually we might not have felt we were making much of a difference, but over 7 billion fewer plastic bags are being used annually. We can do the same with gardens, acting as individuals but together creating a huge habitat to support bees, butterflies and birds.
Gardening in a changing climate
For a while now gardening magazines have been advising gardeners on how to adapt as the climate changes. Plenty of advice on drought-tolerant plants, water-wise practices and how to deal with new pests and disease. But, until recently, there has been little focus on how gardens can be used to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is driving climate change has been released from fossil fuel reserves, soils, forests and other plant-rich natural ecosystems. Cutting our carbon emissions is, of course, important but we can also fight climate change by redressing the carbon balance. Nature has developed the perfect technology to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away in living cells and underground… plants.
Plants pull carbon dioxide from the air and produce sugars which they use to grow, locking the carbon away in tree trunks, leaves, bulbs and tubers. In addition, some of the sugars ‘leak’ into the soil surrounding the plant’s roots where they feed fungi, bacteria and other soil-dwelling organisms. These microorganisms are essential in building healthy soils and play a vital role in locking carbon away in a stable form underground. Gardeners can help create the ideal environment for soil microbes by adopting regenerative gardening practices — really simple ideas that many gardeners will already be using.
Planting a garden might not solve all the problems in the world… but it’s a small step in the right direction.