The Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

May 8, 2019

Over the past three years, some 200 McLean Hospital patients have taken part in gardening groups on the Belmont campus. By working in flower gardens and vegetable gardens, these patients enjoy physical and social gains. What’s more, many of the patients are taking part in research to gauge gardening’s therapeutic impact.

According to nursing professional development specialist Kelly Carlson, PhD, PMHNP-BC, “Around McLean, there have been little pockets of interest in having patients outside and gardening for several years.”

She said that Jeannette Kingsley, RN, group coordinator Caroline Strimaitis, clinical coordinator Theresa Quinn, RN, and former McLean behavior specialist Todd Snyder have established gardens at sites across the campus. Plots have been added at the Short Term Unit and near the Admissions Building.

Building on their work, Carlson has created a therapy group based on grounding techniques.

Grounding, she said, is “like mindfulness in that it brings people to the here and now.” However, grounding “talks more about physical grounding, and it has a thinking component,” she explained. “For people who are anxious or stressed or having traumatic memories, simply having the ground beneath their feet can help,” she said.

Gardening at McLean
Patients report enjoying the social aspects of gardening, among other benefits

Carlson wanted to determine the impact of grounding on patients who take part in the groups. Through McLean’s Institutional Review Board, she secured approval for a research project. The study began in February.

She is collecting data provided by patients who take part in the gardening groups. “People voluntarily sign on to take part in the research. We ask them to take a survey about their experiences to help us find out how helpful the project is,” she said. Patient responses will be tracked in the areas central to grounding techniques. The main domains are physical grounding, thinking, emotional mood, sensory perception (sight, touch, smell, sound), and interpersonal communication skills.

Meanwhile, patients are continuing to enjoy the day-to-day benefits from McLean’s gardening efforts. For example, Carlson reported that Wilson Farm in Lexington donated flowers to the program earlier this year. This enabled patients to take part in a flower arranging project. Similar activities took place last winter as patients arranged winter greenery just in time for snowfall. “It was beautiful!” she said.

Carlson said that McLean staffers have noticed positive changes in their patients who take part in the program. “Treaters have noticed a change in the people,” she said. “They tell me that gardening is influencing their mental and physical well-being. It’s restorative.”

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