The garden has been the only escape for many during lockdown. With restrictions preventing access to public places, particularly for those who are shielding with pre-existing medical conditions, the British public have turned to their own homes to fulfil their essential needs—exercise, relaxation, and entertainment were forced into our own domain. 

Of course, isolation has proved difficult for many people. One survey recognises the increase of people feeling lonely since lockdown, with 24 per cent of people saying they felt lonely as opposed to only 10 per cent people before lockdown.  

But a recent survey by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) indicates that the majority of British people have turned to their garden to improve their poor mental health. Essential work such as mowing, weeding, and watering has positively contributed to their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic according to seven out of ten people, with 60 per cent of participants agreeing that it has helped their physical health too. 

With many longstanding research projects revealing the healing power of gardening, we look at how people have been using their green fingers during lockdown to feel better and fight loneliness. 

The company of plants 

One worrying statistic, that lonely people are 50 per cent more likely to die prematurely than those with good social connections, demonstrates the importance of good mental wellbeing—especially during lockdown. Loneliness and self-isolation have been associated with increased blood pressure, cholesterol level, and depression, among other illnesses. 

According to the Office for National Statistics , 8.2 million people lived on their own in 2019. During the pandemic, their contact with other people was restricted. So, the ability to combat the effects of loneliness has never been more important. 

Therapeutic horticulture can help to alleviate the symptoms of loneliness, with research showing that gardening can help reduce stress and ease the effects of dementia. The physical aspects of gardening are attributed to the release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals  aid the regulation of blood pressure and reduction of stress. 

Guy Barter, chief horticulturist for the Royal Horticultural Society knows the benefits of gardening. He said: “[Gardening is] well known to boost wellbeing, along with the restorative power of tending and caring for living things. Of course, there is the beauty and charm of flowers and gardens to raise the spirits and the pleasure and satisfaction of growing and eating your own food.” 

A study by the society also found that talking to your plants can help them grow faster. So if you’re looking for some good company during lockdown, look no further than your leafy friends. 

Growing to give 

The avid gardener can often grow too much for their own consumption, so donating produce has been a great way to connect people and help those in need during the pandemic. 

Across the UK, there have been many organic growing initiatives set up to combat the supermarket shortages. One Hexham grower, Ginnie O’Farrell, set up a local food bank where community growers could donate their excess produce. She said: “I think everybody has the right to fresh food and fresh food is so expensive. This is a way of helping people to access fresh food that can’t normally afford it.” 

While lockdown has prevented us from meeting new people, knowing that you have made a difference to someone’s life during lockdown has its personal benefits. Studies have found that acts of kindness are linked to increased feelings of wellbeing. Further to this, helping others can also improve our own support networks and encourage us to be more active. 

When combatting the effects of loneliness and our own issues, sometimes helping someone else can be the solution to our problems. With pressures on supermarkets to maintain stock and those who are apprehensive of shopping in enclosed spaces, the reliance on donated produce can help many people to combat loneliness and anxiety. 

Havens of health in your back yard 

There are many studies that show that the garden is good for your health. The benefits include increased exercise and the absorption of vitamin D. This is particularly important for older generations, who are more susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus and thus more likely to isolate at home. 

Direct sunlight contributes to the absorption of vitamin D, and that it is important for the health of bones and muscles, particularly in old age. One study recognised the declining ability of vitamin D synthesis in the skin of the elderly and measured which leisure activities allowed for optimal absorption. The research concluded that cycling and gardening were the ideal activities for the elderly to contribute to their vitamin D requirements. The results were similar for people irrespective of their age, BMI, and other medical conditions. 

According to other reports, gardening can burn around 330 calories per hour of light work. This is more than you would burn walking at a moderate pace for the same time. This is significant, especially during lockdown, with 48 per cent of Brits reporting that they have gained weight since March. But with an hour of gardening per day, over the course of a year you could lose 2.5 stone (15.8kg) of weight. 

Lockdown has been a large upset to our normal schedules, and with many people suffering the consequence of isolation from the pandemic, the benefits of gardening have never been clearer. Between combatting loneliness, helping the community, and improving your own physical health, gardening has aided many people. The benefits of getting your hands a little dirty in the compost can continue beyond the pandemic, helping people to live a better and more sustained life.