Gardening: The answer to everything

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Gardening: The answer to everything

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Gardening has health benefits [Image: on Unsplash]
Manaaki Whenua researcher Gradon Diprose says people return to gardening in times of crisis [Image: Supplied]

Working outdoors helps people process their emotions

Home and community vegetable gardens and “tiny house” living seem to feature in every second book and magazine these days, and Gradon Diprose suspects it is because there’s a movement afoot.

A gardener and tiny-house dweller living on a 200sqm section in suburban Wellington, Mr Diprose is a researcher at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. He says people increasingly want cheaper, healthier food, but that’s not their sole motivation.

Mr Diprose finds many people see gardening through a climate action lens. “It’s about connecting with nature and [other] people in practical ways and trying to live differently.”

More people value the local, circular economy, shorter supply chains, knowing what they are eating, and reducing waste, including packaging and the associated microplastics, he says.

“They are trying to reduce their reliance on the mainstream food system, and also wanting to create more diversity, attract pollinators, sequester carbon in the soil and reduce urban ‘heat islands’. And part of that is increasing the capacity of soils to absorb water during intense rainfall events.”

COVID-19 has boosted community fruit and vegetable projects: “People have flocked to them…in times of crisis, there’s a return to gardening, for food and wellbeing reasons.”

Mr Diprose and colleagues were “blown away”, he says, by the range and depth of health benefits experienced by participants they studied in a youth project on a Christchurch urban farm.1

Many of the young people were inactive and isolated, eating and sleeping badly and rarely socialising. Tutored by gardeners, they learned about working together, growing food, composting and cooking. Many gained confidence, became more active and ate better – “making a significant life change that didn’t involve seeing a counsellor”.

One young man, Mr Diprose recalls, began helping others to eat well: “That was key for us, and it’s way cheaper than the individualised, medical therapeutic model.”

When distressed or angry, being in the garden helped calm the young person. “It’s the therapeutic nature of the landscape itself…[working outdoors] helps people process their emotions.”

Mr Diprose is an environmental social science researcher in Manaaki Whenua’s landscape policy and governance team. Funders of his work include the National Science Challenges.


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Watkins A, Healy S, Dombroski K, et al. Delivering Urban Wellbeing through Transformative Community Enterprise Final Report. University of Canterbury, Western Sydney University, Manaaki Landcare 2019.