As lockdowns came into effect in the spring of 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, reports have emerged of a global gardening boomwith plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs that grow in gardens and balconies around the world.
The data backs up the story: An analysis of Google trends and infection statistics revealed that in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in gardening country by country, from Italy to India, tended to peak just when infections peaked.
Why have so many people found themselves drawn to earth in times of crisis? And what kind of effect did gardening have on them?
In a new study conducted with a team of environmental and public health specialists, we highlight how gardening became a coping mechanism during the early days of the pandemic.
Even as COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we’re seeing real lessons about how gardening can continue to play a role in people’s lives.
Dirt, sweat, tranquility
To conduct our study, we used an online questionnaire to interview over 3,700 respondents who primarily lived in the United States, Germany, and Australia. The group included experienced gardeners and beginners.
More than half of those surveyed said they felt isolated, anxious and depressed at the start of the pandemic. Yet over 75% also found immense value in gardening during this same period. Let it be done in town or in the countrysidegardening was almost universally described as a way to relax, socialize, connect with nature, or stay active.
More than half of respondents reported a significant increase in the time they could spend gardening. Other respondents found some value in growing their own food, but few felt financially obligated to do so.
Instead, most respondents saw gardening as a way to connect with their community and get exercise.
People with more personal difficulties due to COVID-19, such as the inability to work or difficulties with childcare, were more likely to spend more time gardening in their free time than before.
The garden as a refuge
In our analysis of written responses to the survey, most gardeners either seemed to experience an increased sense of joy and comfort or felt more in tune with the natural world. It seemed to have positive therapeutic and psychological benefits, regardless of age or location.
To many people, gardening has become a kind of safe space – a refuge from everyday worries. A German gardener began to see his garden as a sanctuary where even “the birds felt noisier”.
“Gardening was my salvation,” noted one respondent from the United States. “I’m so grateful to be able to surround myself with beauty as a buffer against the depressing news that COVID brings every day.”
Another German gardener wrote that their garden had become their “safe little world in a very uncertain and somewhat dangerous time. … We have come to appreciate even more the hitherto high value of ‘own land, own refuge’.
A green prescription
As life returns to normal, work speeds up and obligations increase, I wonder how many pandemic gardens are already neglected.
Will a hobby born of unique circumstances fade into the background?
I hope not. Gardening shouldn’t be something that’s only done in times of crisis. On the contrary, the pandemic has shown how gardens serve a public health need – that they are not just places of beauty or sources of food, but also conduits for healing.
In fact, several countries like New Zealand, Canada and some in Europe now allow “green prescriptionsto be delivered as alternatives to medication. These are guidelines from doctors to spend some time outdoors each day or month – a recognition of the very real health benefits, from reduced stress to better sleep and improved memory, that venturing into nature can offer.
I also think of the people who never had the chance to garden in the first place during the pandemic. Not everyone has a garden or can afford gardening tools. Improve access to vegetable gardens, urban green spaces and community gardens could be an important way to improve well-being and health.
Making seeding, planting, pruning, and harvesting part of your daily routine also seems to open up more opportunities.
“I never had time to commit to a garden,” one novice gardener told us, “but [I’ve] found such satisfaction and happiness in watching things grow. It was a catalyst to bring about other positive changes in my life.
Senior Researcher at CSIRO Brenda LinLecturer in Health Promotion at Swinburne University of Technology Jonathan KingleyUCCE Santa Clara County Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor Lucy Diekmanprofessor of urban productive ecosystems at the Technical University of Munich Monika Egererrural health geographer at the University of Tasmania Pauline Marshand graduate student in urban and regional planning at the University of California, Davis Summer Cortez contributed to this research.