Gardens, truly the best medicine!

It is sometimes claimed that laughter is the best medicine. Joking apart, it’s probably better documented, and arguably more evidence-based [e.g. The King’s Fund’s 2016 Report ‘Gardens and health: Implications for policy and practice’], that ‘communing with nature’, plants and greenness in particular, is more likely of benefit to those whose health is compromised in one way or another (if only because too much laughing may cause one’s stitches to come undone necessitating more medical intervention…).

Pink trees
Pink trees. Image: Lionhead99 / Wikipedia

Reinforcing that notion [after all, the UK government via the NHS [National Health Service] wouldn’t spend money if it wasn’t going to be beneficial to the greater public good…] there is apparently both a resurgence of interest in, and use of, gardens in hospitals in the United Kingdom. As Juliet Dobson writes ‘hospital gardens are making a comeback, and a growing number of hospitals across the UK benefit from gardens built specifically as a therapeutic space for patients.’ Reportedly, such hospital gardens improved patients’ sense of wellbeing, giving them a space to reflect, a sense of community, a support network and good company, and somewhere to go and meet other people experiencing the same challenges. And that’s really good news for those of us whose own gardening attempts may be considered laughable. But, the therapeutic value of gardens and gardening may not be restricted to us Earth-dwellers.

Raymond Odeh and Charles Guy propose that gardening should be an activity that is cultivated, and engaged in, by those involved in long-duration space missions. Reviewing the growing literature on people-plant interactions as embodied in gardening and related activities, they conclude that the therapeutic benefits of that important activity could help to ‘mitigate potential psychosocial and neurocognitive decrements associated with long-duration space missions, especially for missions that seek to explore increasingly distant places where ground-based support is limited’.

Reading that, I’m reminded of that intriguing film Silent Running, where ‘an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s botany, kept in a greenhouse aboard a spacecraft’. He was not a happy bunny at that prospect…*

* Yes, I do acknowledge that in that rather dystopian film all flora on Earth had become extinct, so it’s not an exact parallel with the modern day (yet…!), but the point about the beneficial effects of plants on space travellers still holds.

Reference List

Dobson, J. (2017). Hospital gardens are making a comeback. BMJ, j5627. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5627

Odeh, R., & Guy, C. L. (2017). Gardening for Therapeutic People-Plant Interactions during Long-Duration Space Missions. Open Agriculture, 2(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1515/opag-2017-0001