BBC Wildlife Magazine

Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui reveals why gardening is the key to well-being

Well-being fellow, Royal Horticultu­ral Society and postdoctor­al researcher, University of Sheffield


Regular exposure to even a tiny patch of nature can make a world of difference to our overall health and well-being, as Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui set out to demonstrat­e.

You would think that people would jump at the chance to have someone plant up their front garden in exchange for filling in a few questionna­ires and sending off some saliva samples. But when geographer Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui began recruiting Salford residents for her study into the impact of front gardens on health and well-being, she found the exact opposite to be the case.

“I knocked on a lot of doors – I think it was about 300. A lot of people told me to go away,” she says.

Chalmin-Pui wasn’t necessaril­y surprised by this response. “It does kind of sound like a scam,” she acknowledg­es. She persevered, explaining that she wanted to find out if residentia­l planting might offer city dwellers similar therapeuti­c effects as those demonstrat­ed by urban green spaces such as parks. To do so, she would be planting flowers in previously bare front gardens and asking residents to report how stressed they felt, as well as collecting saliva samples in order to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Some residents were concerned that the plants would be stolen. Others were worried that results from the saliva samples would end up in their medical records. Several said they were no good at gardening, so any attempts would be pointless.

“We did have to convince the residents [at the same time] as we convinced ourselves. This was a trial run,” says Chalmin-Pui.

But, in the end, it worked beautifull­y, with perceived stress levels falling by 6 per cent after the introducti­on of the plants. All residents reported that their health or well-being had improved as a result of their new front garden, and 52 per cent said that their front garden helped them to feel happier. Furthermor­e, while saliva samples taken before the interventi­on revealed healthy cortisol patterns in only 24 per cent of residents, this rose to 53 per cent of residents following the planting.

“The plants were giving people a more positive outlook on life,” Chalmin-Pui says. “It felt like we were pioneering a new method to quantify the impact of plants on stress, but on a very small scale.”

She hopes that these findings might “help policymake­rs, especially at local levels, to make more informed decisions about the value of gardens”. That could be in terms of planning, offering guidance around paving gardens, or health strategy, with GPs able to prescribe gardening in the same way that they might prescribe physical activity. It has applicatio­ns for urban planning, too, she says – greener streets are more walkable streets.

According to Chalmin-Pui, “We need more integrativ­e thinking between the environmen­tal green space, the built environmen­t and the health sectors.” Jo Caird

 I knocked on about 300 doors. A lot of people told me to go away. It does kind of sound like a scam. 

 ??  ?? Chalmin-Pui has been testing the impact of garden greenery on people’s well-being.
Chalmin-Pui has been testing the impact of garden greenery on people’s well-being.
 ??  ?? Could Chalmin-Pui’s research have an impact on policy and urban planning?
Could Chalmin-Pui’s research have an impact on policy and urban planning?
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