A trowel and a plant on hessian cloth

Why Do We Dig Gardens?

How ecosystem quality of nature-based activities affects management and recovery from common mental health disorders?

Project Team:

  • Michelle Tester-Jones (University of Exeter)
  • Annabelle Edwards (Lancaster University)
  • Mat Cottam (The Conservation Volunteers)
  • Kirsti Ashworth (Lancaster University)
  • Andy Harrod (Lancaster University)
  • Hattie Roberts (Lancaster University)
  • Isla Young (Lancaster University)

Project Summary:

There is a growing evidence base demonstrating that contact with natural environments can reduce the likelihood of developing common mental health disorders (CMDs) such as depression and anxiety. However, we know less about how engaging with nature affects those already experiencing CMDs. This study will investigate how nature-based activities affect CMD management and recovery, and will explore the factors underpinning the promotion and/or prevention of management and recovery. Increasing interest and use of ‘green care’ and ‘green prescription’ initiatives suggest that this is an important area for continued investigation. However, there is limited research exploring how the effectiveness of such interventions varies with sensory environmental quality, and how this in turn affects nature connectedness and any subsequent improvements in mental health outcomes. These will be core questions of this study.

Members of ‘Green Gym’ sites (run by our partner The Conservation Volunteers) will be invited to participate in a pilot intervention to improve perceived wellbeing and symptoms of depression. Green Gyms invite a wide range of participants to engage in weekly raised-bed gardening activities in urban spaces. We will recruit individuals experiencing depression and/or anxiety to answer questions about themselves, their perceived wellbeing and experiences of the Green Gym across an 8 week period, as well as assessing the sensory environment in and around each of the Green Gym locations, and conducting ethnographic observations. A better understanding of which aspects of sensory environmental quality influence mental health and wellbeing outcomes will inform the future design of optimally effective nature-based interventions.