Glorious gardens (and their surprising health benefits)!

18 May 2023 | Written by By Kathy Feest

The Joy Club member Kathy Feest revels in the delights of gardens and the benefits these modest outdoor spaces have to offer…

What is it about a garden? Sitting in a space that is filled with greenery and flowers and maybe the sound of tinkling water – contentment often arrives. Marcus Cicero, the Roman statesman and one of the most influential philosophers of the ancient world, said that if you have a garden and library you have everything you need.  Well, maybe not everything Marcus, but it certainly is a good start!

According to Tom Turner (more on him later), none other than the Romans are responsible for creating the first gardens in Britain.  After the Claudian invasion of 43 CE, Roman residential palaces were built complete with gardens like those found in the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia.  Although few details survive from these places, their influence remains. Thank you, Romans!   

Today modern researchers are convinced by the evidence that the power of gardens enhances our wellbeing (they knew a thing or two those ancients)! A recent study in 2022 has demonstrated that gardens and green spaces reduce crime! Dr. Scott Ogletree of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh’s College of Art, said: “The findings suggest green space may help reduce precursors of crime, like aggression and stress, through restoration, and these findings point to the value of considering the design and location of green space to improve quality of life for residents.”  

Being in a garden setting has repeatedly been shown to reduce stress and to be beneficial. Blood pressure, pulse rate and electrodermal activity have been seen to decrease when visiting a garden and (usefully) the theory was tested after a mildly stressful event. Feeling stressed? Head to a garden! 

Although the Victorians didn’t have the advantage of our modern day evidence, they were certainly persuaded to develop gardens and enable them to flourish. The dreadful Victorian conditions suffered by the British working class motivated innovators in garden design to provide some respite. Urban parks flourished and included amenities like band stands and tea houses. The preeminent designers of the time applied their magic and created designs that were now accessible to the middle classes and not just to the aristocracy. Gardening captured the public imagination during this time and has never ebbed since in this country.  

The Horticultural Society of London, founded in  1804, supported botanists in their pursuit of specimens that were being imported from all over the world. New means of transporting plants during this time enabled an introduction of plants that were not native to these isles. The gardens established in Victorian times continue to be maintained throughout the country and enable us all to view the splendour of the rich heritage as it continues to develop and thrive. 

Tom Turner, the historian and landscape architect, has developed a website that lists the hundreds of gardens that are located all over the country. Tom established this resource in the 1990s and continues to edit this treasure trove today. The website lists gardens, not just in the UK but all over the world. There are also special tours and garden visits that are available to book. A rich resource!   

If you can’t travel for whatever reason, don’t despair, the joy that comes from the beauty of a garden can still be yours! Researchers tell us that even just  looking at pictures of beautiful gardens is good for us! You won’t enjoy the scent filled air or the wind gently rustling through the trees, but viewing a garden scene can still contribute to lowering your blood pressure and stress levels.  

Being outside in a garden is good for the body, and the soul. I’m heading back outside just now and sitting underneath the beach tree that has lived at the end of our garden for more than 180 years. There’s something special about that sort of survival, don’t you think? I shall contemplate all that with a cup of tea. 

Gardens: what a joy and available for each one of us in one form or another! Enjoy! 

Kathy Feest has a wealth of experience with writing, leadership and personal development mentoring. Kathy fulfilled her dream at the age of 41 and earned her first University degree; she went on to complete a PhD in Medical Education. She regularly runs self-development workshops at The Joy Club so keep your eyes on our events calendar for one of her next live sessions.

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