Adding a few plants to a bare front yard could reduce stress levels as much as eight weekly mindfulness sessions, according to new research by the UK’s Department of Landscape Architecture together with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
Researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, Westminster and Virginia found a greener front garden can also make people feel happier, more relaxed and closer to nature.
The four-year study added ornamental plants to previously bare front gardens in economically deprived streets of Salford in Greater Manchester. Each of 42 residents received a tree, a shrub, a climber, herbs, bulbs and bedding plants for two containers. The control group received the same set of plants one year later.
By measuring the residents’ concentrations of cortisol before and after the plants were added, the researchers were able to measure the effect of greenery on stress levels. Cortisol levels change across the day, naturally peaking in the early morning shortly after we wake up and drop to the lowest concentration at night. If those levels decline less steeply during the day it tends to indicate reduced stress.
Before the experiment, only 24% of residents had healthy cortisol patterns; over the year following the plantings, this increased to 53%. Over half (52%) of residents said their front garden helped them be happier, 40% said it helped them be more relaxed and just over one in four (26%) said it helped them be closer to nature.
Dr Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, who conducted the research, said, “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. Since I started this research, it’s been fascinating to see how adding plants to front gardens really did have a transformative effect on residents’ lives. Residents suffering from loneliness and other mental health issues found it especially uplifting and motivational.”
One resident said greening up the front gardens gave him pride not just in his house, but in the whole area. Another said just looking at the colours of the plants made her feel brighter in herself.
Professor Alistair Griffiths of the RHS added, “With so many millions more people gardening after discovering a passion to grow during lockdown, 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. When we started this research four years ago, the world was a very different place. Today life is even more stressful for so many, meaning the results of this experiment are more important than ever. 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. Together we should all try to make a positive difference one plant at a time.”
Director of Research at the Department of Landscape Architecture Dr Ross Cameron concluded, “This is an instrumental piece of research in that it ties in the very positive emotions people have with plants and gardens, with physiological health measures. It strengthens the evidence that gardening and ready access to green space are vital components in relieving stress and promoting positive mental health in our urban communities.”
ABOVE Ornamental plants added to previously bare front gardens in economically deprived streets of Salford
PHOTO Anna Da Silva/RHS images