The National Health Service, the UK’s publicly funded healthcare system, will soon allow doctors to write prescriptions for gardening, according to an article published last month. The move comes as part of the nation’s governmental reform that considers gardening, dancing, and even camping as possible alternatives to traditional treatments.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, says that the coming reforms will “allow more innovative treatment approaches to be put in place, including the opportunity to try gardening rather than prescribe expensive drugs.” He goes on to add,” I would much rather a doctor had time to listen to patients and, instead of prescribing anti-depressants, prescribe a course of gardening.”

A script that may sound strange to some, the health benefits of gardening have gained ground in recent years. Study results published by Science Daily, for instance, found that bacteria present in soil activates serotonin-producing neurons, effects similar to those of anti-depressants. Dr. Chris Lowry, key author of the study, commented that the findings “leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

On the other hand, a behavioral scientist at Texas A&M uncovered a possible link between well-being and gardens that suggests we needn’t even get our hands dirty. (Though where’s the fun in that?) In his paper calling for gardens to be installed in hospitals, Dr. Ulrich explains that “simply looking at environments dominated by greenery, flowers, or water — as compared to built scenes lacking nature (rooms, buildings, towns) — is significantly more effective in promoting recovery or restoration from stress.” His paper claims that within minutes of watching footage of natural scenes, study participants displayed measurable physiological responses consistent with an overall reduction in stress. The psychological benefits of this vegetation-viewing were reported as a decrease in negative emotions including anger and sadness.

Feeling better already? (c) 2012 Belinda Beetham

The same week that the National Health Service reforms came to light, a NYT opinion piece reflected on our removal from the natural world and linked such dissonance to rising occurrences of behavioral problems, obesity, and yes, stress. All things considered, the UK’s reform may be a timely one.

For those of you who aren’t covered by the National Health Service, why not be your own health practitioner? You don’t even need a prescription. Go ahead, garden! Experts say it’s good for you. And if you are looking for added benefit, gardening with native plants is not only beneficial for you, but for the health of the earth as well.

If you would like more information on gardening with native plants, contact your local chapter of the Native Plant Society of NJ.

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