Plants and green spaces boost our mood
Whether it’s a small local park, a large nature reserve or even your own backyard, living near green spaces is great for your mental and physical health.
Professor Feng has researched how green spaces improve our mental health and wellbeing, finding that they help us no matter how old we are – starting in early childhood.
“We found that Australian children who live with more green space have better mental health,” she says.
Green spaces are great for parents
While having green spaces to run and play in is important for kids, the benefits for adults shouldn’t be underestimated.
“The green space quality not only matters for children but particularly for parents as well,” Professor Feng says.
If you’re a parent juggling small children, being able to regularly take your kids to a beautiful local park with trees and play equipment can boost your mental health, which we all know with children can take a hit after a few sleepless nights and tantrums.
“We actually examined data on young mums over 10 years after they gave birth, and found that those who lived closer to high quality green space had better mental health and a lower risk of developing depression compared to mums who lived with lower quality green space.”
Trees make us happy and keep us active
Green spaces can also help our physical health, creating a space where we’re more motivated to exercise. Large trees provide shade, and shield us from the hot sun, making walking or running more appealing, especially this time of year, as the weather warms up.
The giant canopies of large trees can boost our mood, too. For city dwellers, living with more tree canopy makes you less likely to have mental health problems, and even gives you a lower risk of heart disease, Professor Feng says.
With work from home our new reality, enjoying your lunch break in the park, or walking through the park while you’re on a phone meeting can do wonders for your stress levels.
Even a tiny garden is great for your health
Whether you’re growing plants in your own backyard, or your apartment balcony, the rewards remain the same, and can provide a real sense of purpose, Professor Feng says.
“When you grow plants and harvest vegetables, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Looking after a small plant daily creates a sense of hope, all of which was created by yourself.”
Research is even now showing that just getting your hands dirty in the garden can help to boost your mental health, says Susan Everingham, who is completing a PhD in Plant Ecology at the University of NSW.
“Studies have shown that having plants in your home and in your backyard is really beneficial for your mental and emotional health.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a big backyard or you’re living in a small city apartment, you can grow your own veggies and herbs, and maybe fruit if you have the space for pots.
“Work with whatever space you have – if it’s a tiny space and you can only fit one plant, that’s better than nothing.”
What to grow in spring
Spring is the perfect time to plant fruits, vegetables and herbs, Everingham says.
“Now is a good time to plant strawberries, blueberries, and vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and zucchini.
“As we come into summer, you’ll have a big flourishing supply of veggies and herbs.”
Passionfruit as well as citrus such as lemons and limes are also coming into season, Everingham says.
“It’s also a really good time to plant herbs, whether that’s in a garden bed outside or in a pot indoors, as long as the pot is getting enough light and has good drainage.
“Herbs like rosemary and basil are really handy to have fresh and on supply for cooking. Rosemary really thrives in the Australian climate, while basil is a good herb to grow in a bright spot indoors to have a delicious supply for cooking.”
Save money by growing your own herbs and berries
Anyone who’s been to the shops lately knows that berries can swing between $4 and $10 per punnet within a period of a day. By planting your own berries and fresh herbs you’re guaranteed to save dollars on your weekly shop.
“The price of berries fluctuates a lot in the supermarket, so you can save a lot of money if you treat your berry plants right.”
Tomato plants can also give you huge harvests each summer – and if you have too many, enjoy the gift of giving, by sharing some with family, friends and neighbours.
If you don’t have a lot of space, choose dwarf citrus varieties which can be grown in large pots in a courtyard or on a balcony. If they’re in a bright, sunny spot they should thrive.
Try growing these aromatic plants to boost your mood
Plans such as lavender, mint and chamomile have strong aromas which have calming effects.
“The compounds in the aroma of lavender have been found to have therapeutic effects and help with sleep and relaxation.”
Mint and chamomile can also be calming, and they’re easy to grow in your backyard or indoors in a pot. For a relaxing hot drink, make tea by pouring boiling water over some leaves.
UNSW researchers are looking for mothers with young children to take part in research into what they are looking for in green spaces. Research involves a one-hour chat via video call. If you’re interested in taking part, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Xiaoqi Feng is an Associate Professor in Urban Health and Environment at the School of Population Health, University of NSW. Susan Everingham is a PhD Candidate in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at University of NSW.