Green front gardens really are stress-relieving!

Just a few plants in a front garden give a measurable boost to wellbeing.

When plants in containers were added to small paved-over front gardens in Salford, residents were less stressed. Importantly, this study is the first to scientifically measure the change. The drop in stress levels was not just based on what participants said, but on the levels of cortisol recorded in their bodies. If they remain too high for too long, cortisol can do harm and has been linked with anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory loss and concentration lapses.

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More and more evidence is accumulating about the benefits to people of green spaces, gardens and gardening. But this Salford study is the first to show a direct physiological link between people’s wellbeing and the presence of plants in their front garden.

How was it done?

A team of researchers from several universities and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) worked with two housing associations in Salford, recruiting people living in Victorian terraced houses with small paved-over front gardens and no plants. All the residents who agreed to take part had their cortisol measured via saliva swabs. Then half received two large self-watering containers planted up with a mix of shrubs, climbers, bulbs and bedding plants, plus the option of a small tree. The other half, for comparison, received none the first year but got their containers and plants the second year.

The experiment started in Spring 2017. Residents could look after their plants themselves and were encouraged to do so, but did not have to. The RHS team was available for advice.

Later in the year all had more cortisol tests, and the following Spring it was all repeated with the second group. Both groups also filled in regular questionnaires about their health and wellbeing.

What were the results?

Residents’ stress levels, as measured by cortisol tests, were significantly lower at the beginning of Autumn than they had been before the plants arrived. This was supported by residents written responses in the questionnaires. They said they felt more motivated, relaxed, had more of a sense of pride in their home and the area, and were more cheerful coming and going. Among the things they said:

“One of the big things I’ve noticed is when I come back from work and see all the daffodils, it switches me into home mode. It’s like a buffer zone between work and home.” (Male participant, 37)

“It’s lovely. It really cheers me up, honestly…. I love nature, and I see so little of it. So every time I get out of the house, I get a little wave of pride. It gives me a lift, a little swing in my step. Every time.” (Female participant, 51)

“It’s just nice to see the different colours. Otherwise, it looks dead bare. It made me feel brighter in myself.” (Female participant, 86)

20210509 Curzon Road c Christine Eborall

Those who had mental health difficulties said they felt more motivated by looking after the plants. Some of their neighbours who had not taken part went out and bought plants and containers for their own homes, and there was an increased sense of community in the area:

“It makes it look like your area has not just been left to rot.” (Male participant, 40)

20210509 Curzon Road 7 c Christine Eborall

This is an important study because it shows, for the first time, that plants in front gardens really can improve people’s wellbeing and reduce stress. It only takes a few well-chosen and colourful plants to achieve this. And that is even more important now, because more people are depressed and have mental health problems due to the Covid pandemic.

Furthermore, it is the front garden that has this pivotal role. People leave and come home through it, and neighbours and passers-by see it from the pavement. In Salford even the neighbours got involved and the community felt more together.

This experiment has highlighted how important front gardens really are, often neglected or just used as car parking spaces. We need everyone to recognise this, stop obliterating front gardens with paving and concrete, and restore as many as possible to growing plants.

The aim should be for all houses, apartment and residential blocks to have planted front gardens. People really do benefit from them.


It made me feel brighter in myself”- The health and well-being impacts of a residential front garden horticultural intervention, Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, Jenny Roe, Alistair Griffiths, Nina Smyth, Timothy Heaton, Andy Clayden and Ross Cameron, Landscape and Urban Planning, 205 (2021) 103958.

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