The healing power of gardening

child girl planting flowers in spring garden

In a world that’s becoming increasingly fast-paced and modernized, it’s comforting to know there are places we can escape to in our very own backyards.

We’ve long recognized the health benefits that come with spending time surrounded by nature, sunlight, and fresh air, and gardens and parks offer a safe haven where we can relax and escape from the daily stressors in our lives.

The body of evidence supporting the many benefits of gardening is well established, especially in the pediatric age group.

Studies have shown that children who take part in gardening activities tend to engage in other healthy behaviours, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, and being more physically active.

They also tend to have better social skills and life skills that promote group collaboration, and gardening has also been linked to better academic performance.

More importantly, by exposing your children to gardening at a young age, you instil a lifelong appreciation and respect for nature that follows them well into adulthood.

Even when we are feeling poorly, gardens have been shown to have remarkable therapeutic benefits that go a long way toward making us feel better. They provide us with an increasing sense of wellbeing and respite from the many distractions in our lives, and reduce negative emotions and stressful thoughts.

The concept of the healing influence of gardens is not new, and many hospitals have healing gardens that help patients in a number of ways:

  • They help reduce stress and promote an inner sense of balance;
  • They help patients’ inner healing system become more resilient;
  • They provide a stimulating environment for patients needing physical or horticulture therapy.

Why do gardens have such a remarkable effect on our health? Many scholars believe it to be because of the way our brains are hardwired – we simply have an innate appreciation for natural settings and instinctively find them to be relaxing.

Apart from that, there are several other ways in which healing gardens help patients feel better: by promoting exercise, encouraging them to engage in social interactions, and increasing their sense of control.

The Healing Garden at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario offers a serene and relaxing space for the many patients and visitors that visit the hospital every day. Hospital visits can be a stressful time in a child’s life, and the Healing Garden at CHEO provides a safe and soothing outdoor backdrop for kids to be kids.

Visiting the Healing Garden can help children better manage the stress in their lives and allows them to come up with effective coping strategies that promote their physical and mental wellbeing. Children are given the opportunity to plant seeds, nurture them, and watch their creations blossom.

They get a chance to explore the richness of their surroundings using all five senses, helping them appreciate the many colours, tastes, textures and fragrances nature has to offer.

This summer, along with their regular activities, encourage your children to go outside and garden. Start them off with a small planter or give them a small space within your garden that they can use to grow interesting plants and flowers that are easy to grow, and that stimulate their senses.

Show them the right tools and how to use them safely when gardening. Start by helping them plant the seeds, and then show them how to care for their plants. When possible, include fruits and vegetables in their garden and teach your children nutritional facts about the food they grow.

Encourage your children to appreciate their outdoor surroundings and you may discover a budding horticulturist in your family!

Abeer Sami is a medical graduate from the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and has a BSc. in Biochemistry from Carleton University, Ottawa. She is currently enrolled in the MHA program at the University of Ottawa.