Open mind: Benefits of nature, gardening

Have you ever wondered why it feels so good to get outside?  Why you might feel better after a walk in the woods? Or how spending time in your garden leaves you feeling refreshed?

Horticultural therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic treatment approach that promotes an individual’s wellbeing through the use of gardening, gardening-related activities and nature-based therapy programming. As a horticultural therapist part of my role is to guide people to engage with nature creatively to support their wellbeing.

Studies have found that spending time in nature reduces stress levels, restores our ability to concentrate, improves our attention span, enhances positive emotions, improves our sleep, and boosts our mood. Spending at least two hours in nature each week significantly improves our health and well-being. 

Biophilia, a term coined by biologist Edward O. Wilson, refers to our biological need to engage with nature and other life forms for our well-being.  As humans we have an innate need to connect to nature. This may explain our interests in gardening, nature hikes, camping and spending leisure time outdoors. 

A simple, yet powerful way to build and deepen our relationship with nature is to explore a process call the “sit spot.” The sit spot is simply the practice of sitting in nature. This is a practice of mindfulness meditation or a moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening in nature as it is occurring around you.

By immersing yourself in the environment you become part of that nature. The sit spot should be close by and a place you can easily access on a regular basis. A place that feels safe to you and where you can sit without interruption. Your sit spot can be anywhere: your backyard, balcony, garden, parks or looking through a window if you are unable to get outside.

Consistency is the key. The more often you go to your sit spot the greater the relationship you build with the area and all that lives there. Ten to 20 minutes a few times a week is all that is needed.  It usually takes this long for the other beings – animals, insects and birds  – to accept you into the space and return to their regular activities, allowing you to observe and notice what it is happening all around you.

Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese word that translates to “forest bathing”, which means to take in all of our senses in the forest atmosphere. It is an evidence-based practice that identifies the health benefits of being outdoors and immersing yourself in the forest environment. 

Our wellbeing improves through the promotion of stress reduction, benefits to our immune system, re-connection to the land and to the health of our environment. 

Some cautions must be taken when heading into the forest: knowing where you are going and sticking to the trail, letting someone know where you will be and what time you expect to be back, taking a first aid kit and a way to communicate for help, dressing for the weather conditions and being aware of the dangers of plants, animals and insects that may be encountered while out walking in the area.

Houseplants are also a great way to add beauty and enjoyment while reducing stress. They also improve air quality by adding oxygen and humidity to the atmosphere. It’s a great way to bring the outdoors in to “green” your environment.  

And finally let’s not forget the importance of gardening. Not only does it create beauty for you to enjoy the sights and smells of the flowers and plants, it also supports bees with pollination and is a food source for birds, animals and insects. 

Looking after plants gives us a sense of responsibility and allows us to be nurturers. It keeps us connected to other living things while allowing us to relax. Being amongst plants and flowers reminds us to live in the present moment.

There are many ways to appreciate our connection to nature. 

What works best for you?

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Tamaura Proctor is a Registered Horticultural Therapist at  Homewood Health Centre. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit or call 1-844-HERE247.

Tamaura Proctor