An Extra Benefit of Home Gardening

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As civic leaders and urban planners work to make cities more sustainable and livable by investing in outdoor spaces and recreational activities such as biking and walking, Princeton researchers have identified the benefit of an activity largely overlooked by policymakers — home gardening.

Researchers found that, across the study’s population, the level of emotional well-being, or happiness, reported while gardening was similar to what people reported while biking, walking or dining out, according to a study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. Home gardening was the only activity out of the 15 studied for which women and people with low incomes reported higher emotional well-being than men and medium- and high-income participants, respectively.

The benefits of gardening on happiness were similar across racial boundaries and between urban and suburban areas, said first author Graham Ambrose, a research specialist in Princeton’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. In addition, whether people gardened alone or with others made no difference, and people who kept vegetable gardens reported a higher level of average emotional well-being than people who worked in ornamental gardens.

“People know where community gardeners garden, but it is hard to know who is gardening at home, which our group uniquely identified,” Ambrose said.  For example, study authors found that 31% of participants engaged in home gardening for about 90 minutes per week on average, compared to 19% who engaging in biking (an average of 30 minutes each week) and 85% who walked (an average of one hour and 40 minutes each week).

The study revealed that many more people garden than we think and it appears that it associates with higher levels of happiness similar to walking and biking. In the movement to make cities more livable, gardening might be a big part of improving quality-of-life.

The researchers found that home gardening was among the top five activities in terms of how meaningful an activity felt to people while engaging in it. The researchers of the current study plan to replicate this work among community gardeners in order to compare the emotional benefit of household gardens versus community gardens. These results will be important for food action planning in major cities.

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