Labour weekend traditionally triggers Kiwi gardening fever and throughout New Zealand garden centres are standing by to
welcome people in. This weekend Gardening New Zealand
is promoting the mental health benefits of gardening.
A 2014 Netherlands study found that 30 minutes gardening relieved stress more effectively than 30 minutes reading. And
this showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A 2016 UK, Australia and Japanese study showed 30 minutes once
a week to be the minimum time required in nature for health and well-being.
Auckland University of Technology PHD student and lecturer, Gayle Souter-Brown set out to discover what kind of nature
is required for greater mental well-being. She conducted a randomised controlled trial of 168 people where one group
spent half-an-hour per week in a sensory garden and the another in a formally planted outdoor plaza, with a control
group. Participants kept diaries, were interviewed about their experiences and were tested for cortisol levels. She
found a relationship between ecologically rich green space, reduced stress levels and improved wellbeing.
Ms Souter-Brown says, “Simply put, the organic garden, with birds, butterflies, and healthy soils, was more effective at
reducing stress than an orderly, planted courtyard-style space. It also significantly improved well-being and work
“For mental health, trees, water, a sense of discovery, seating options and some sunshine are the elements we need in
Another study on the use of therapeutic horticulture for patients with clinical depression sought to understand why
gardening programs were effective in lessening patient experience of depression. They found that structured gardening
activities gave patients existential purpose. Put simply, it gave their lives meaning.
Gardening New Zealand spokesperson Debbie Pascoe says there is plenty of research worldwide showing that gardening
brings therapeutic benefits.
“Whether it’s seeing seedlings emerge from the soil, a flower opening, or that lovely feeling of physical work and fresh
air, there’s no doubt gardening is a tonic that’s beneficial for us all,” Ms Pascoe said.
“The pleasure gained from caring for plants and watching them grow can be huge for all age groups and walks of life.
It’s a chance to express our creative side. Gardening is one of the rarest things because no matter what you do, you can
never be ‘wrong’, there’s no such thing as failing,” she said.