If you enjoyed watching the Chelsea Flower Show this year you’re not alone – gardening is one of Britain’s most beloved pastimes, particularly for older generations. Now an increasing body of evidence is showing us that for degenerative conditions such as dementia, a spot of garden work, or even a stroll through a beautiful green space, can be a powerful tonic.
Indeed, so compelling is this evidence that the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has teamed up with GPs in a new scheme to prescribe gardening activities to patients with mental health issues and dementia. Gardens that sign up to the scheme will be offering a range of activities for patients, from the simple calm of a visit to a sensory garden, to active work designing wildlife-friendly habitats.
“Gardens, in all their myriad forms, promote good health and wellbeing but their designs can also be tweaked to serve a specific purpose,” Guy Barter, Chief Horticulturist at the RHS said to The Telegraph.
‘Sensory gardens… use plant choice, features and installations to stimulate each of the senses. This might include tall grasses or bamboos that can help exclude everyday noise and promote a calming sound for those that need a space to relax, or textured plants like lamb’s ears and silver sage to encourage interaction from, for example, those with dementia.’
A garden from this year’s Chelsea Flower Show will also be replanted at an NHS trust in the coming weeks. There was a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing at this year’s show, including a garden co-designed by the Duchess of Cambridge, which exists to encourage both children and adults to get back to nature.
One of the first gardens to sign up to the scheme is the charmingly named Owd’ Martha’s Yard in Barnsley, which will hold gardening activities for people referred by their GP to the area’s social prescribing scheme. Those attending will grow herbs in new raised beds that can be used to make tea including liquorice, mint and jasmine. The benefits of being purposeful outdoors in fresh air, particularly for those struggling with low motivation or depression – a common side effect for those living with dementia – are myriad.
Mary Berry (yes, she of the cakes!), who is president of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), said, ‘I have long been aware of the therapeutic benefits of gardening – you don’t need pills so get out in the garden and enjoy it. It’s essential.’