All of those who enjoy gardening are convinced of its health benefits and anecdotal evidence is easily found to back up claims of improved physical and mental wellbeing. “ it (gardening) is a life expanding experience for all. In a garden we can find a cure for boredom, and chronic fatigue, a remedy for unhappiness, and an escape from feelings of tension, anxiety, alienation and futility. If prevention is better than cure, why is the application of horticultural therapy restricted to the sick, when it could be employed for the health promotion of every man, woman and child.” (Donald Norfolk 2000 The Therapeutic Garden Bantam Press p.8)
A project has been completed which has attempted to show this link between well being and gardening, particularly community gardening. It is called The Cultivating for Health Project. The premise of the project was that communal gardening on allotment sites created inclusionary spaces in which older people could benefit from gardening activity in a mutually supportive environment that helped to combat social isolation and contribute to the development of their social networks. The project was completed in 2002, and explored the concept of a therapeutic landscape which enhanced quality of life and emotional well being.
In summary it found that
For older people the natural landscape was seen to contribute positively in both active and passive ways on their mental well being. The experience of built landscape in which the participants were resident reflected findings of other geographical studies pointing to heightened fear of crime amongst older people (Pain, R 1994 Old age and ageism in urban research: The case of fear of crime. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 21 1 pp. 117-128). The domestic garden was a site of relaxation and security.
Allotments as sites for communal gardening were seen to contribute to the social inclusion of older people and offering a means of combating social isolation.
A deeper meaning to communal gardening activity that operated at an emotional level was also experienced. A sense of achievement, satisfaction and aesthetic pleasure from engagement with nature was expressed. Less able members of the group benefited from a nurturing and mutually supportive environment.
In conclusion “Allotments are widespread across the UK and where available are relatively inexpensive. Sensitively developed they have the potential to make a significant contribution to the health aging agenda through communal gardening. Milligan, C; Gatrell, A and Bingley, A ‘Cultivating Health’: therapeutic landscapes and older people in northern England. Social Science and Medicine 58 9 pp.1781-1793)
Evidence again of the potential of allotments and another reason to increase their provision rather than earmark them for development!