Well-being and Urban Gardens
Urban private gardens in the UK can occupy a significant proportion of the total surface area of a city, often comprising an area greater than that of all the parks and nature areas put together. For example, in Sheffield, a typical city in the north of England, gardens and allotments comprise 15.6% of the total surface area, giving them the highest greenspace land cover of the city.
Gardens have been associated with human settlements throughout history. Gardening as an activity and the garden as a place produce aesthetic, spiritual and psychological benefits that extend well beyond the simple growing of plants. The British market in plants and garden-related equipment and supplies is a multi-billion-pound market. Over 10 million avid gardeners make gardening one of the most popular leisure activities in Britain. Private gardens are the most heavily used type of outdoor space and represent the most frequent contact with nature for most people. Such gardens have specific wildlife value and add considerably to the biodiversity of urban areas.
For all the public interest in private gardens, they have been the subject of relatively little research. One area in particular which has been virtually ignored is the broader social meaning and the value to human well-being of popular gardens, i.e. the everyday residential gardens of everyday people. Despite the large proportion of urban land which they occupy and their high value to most householders, they are the forgotten elements of many urban designs and urban planning proposals, as compared to parks, public gardens and woodlands. It has been indicated that 90% of house owners/occupiers desire private garden space. In fact, dissatisfaction with public housing projects has been found to be particularly due to a lack of garden space, resulting in a lack of privacy, ownership, and control of space.
Although gardens are probably the most heavily used type of open space in cities, only a few studies have been published on the domestic uses of private gardens. Even fewer studies have been undertaken into the benefits of gardens to human well-being. For many, active tasks such as watering plants and weeding are seen as an enjoyable and relaxing activity, providing a diversion from routine. This implies that for many people, working in the garden is perceived as relaxation. The production of a neat and tidy garden can give rise to intense feelings of personal satisfaction and is also important to many in generating a respectable external image of themselves. Gardens (particularly front gardens) present an image to the rest of the world and can be important in conveying impressions of status and territoriality.
Digging and other strenuous activities can have significant physical benefits, such as improving muscle tone and lung capacity. This, coupled with working and relaxing in the fresh air, may also have health benefits, as may fresh, homegrown food. Relaxation in the garden, stress-reduction and the feelings of personal well-being thus produced may correlate with both physical and emotional health, and with age or stage in life. Some people stated that gardening was a good and productive way to spend time, and particularly for several retired people, it was a full-day activity, enabling them to establish a routine and plan day-to-day activities. Gardens were viewed as a necessary relief and contrast to the hard elements of the built environment of the city. Garden wildlife was almost universally welcomed. Some gardeners attributed religious or spiritual associations to their gardens.
It is clear that gardens and gardening play a central role in the lives of a significant number of city dwellers, and that gardens have positive influences on the well-being of many more. As well as having considerable influence on perceptions of individual human well-being and that people also perceive gardens as having beneficial values to their neighbourhoods and communities. People who made many friends and become acquainted with their neighbours through their gardens acknowledged their social value. It is apparent, however, that the majority of people in urban areas link the idea of a garden with relaxation and being in or creating a pleasant environment: it is probable that being able to look into the garden from a dwelling is as valuable as actually being in it in terms of stress relief. It is also apparent that, although preferences and perceived benefits varied with age, gender, housing type, and occupation, all but the smallest of gardens can be linked to a wide range of human benefits, and even the smallest has some value to human well-being.
Creating a new garden design can give your entire home a boost – in summer you’ll have a whole extra outdoor room to enjoy; in winter, you’ll be able to enjoy the views of the newly revamped plot from inside.
Get in touch to find out how we can help you with the design of your urban garden.