The pandemic’s gardening boom shows how gardens can cultivate public health

A man tends to his plot at a community garden in Santa Monica, Calif., in April 2020. Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

by Alessandro Ossola, University of California, Davis

As lockdowns went into effect in the spring of 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, reports emerged of a global gardening boom, with plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs sprouting in backyards and on balconies around the world.

The data backs up the narrative: An analysis of Google Trends and infection statistics found that during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, country-by-country interest in gardening, from Italy to India, tended to peak just as infections peaked.

Why did so many people find themselves being pulled toward the earth in a time of crisis? And what sort of effect did gardening have on them?

In a new study conducted with a team of environmental and public health scholars, we highlight the extent to which gardening became a coping mechanism during the early days of the pandemic.

Even as restrictions related to COVID-19 have eased, we see some real lessons for the way gardening can continue to play a role in people’s lives.

Dirt, sweat, tranquility

To conduct our study, we used an online questionnaire to survey more than 3,700 respondents who primarily lived in the U.S., Germany and Australia. The group included experienced gardeners and those who were new to the pursuit.

More than half of those we surveyed said they felt isolated, anxious and depressed during the early days of the pandemic. Yet more than 75% also found immense value in gardening during that same period. Whether done in cities or out in the country, gardening was almost universally described as a way to either relax, socialize, connect with nature or stay active.

More than half of the respondents reported a significant increase in the amount of time they were able to spend gardening. Other respondents found some value in growing their own food, but few felt financially compelled to do so.

Instead, most respondents saw gardening as a way to connect with their community and get some exercise.

People with more personal difficulties due to COVID-19, like the inability to work or struggling with child care, were more likely to spend more time gardening in their spare time than they had in the past.

The garden as a refuge

In our analysis of written responses to the survey, most gardeners seemed to either experience a heightened sense of joy and reassurance or feel more attuned to the natural world. This seemed to have positive therapeutic and psychological benefits, regardless of age or location.

To many people, gardening became a sort of safe space – a haven from daily worries. One German gardener started seeing their garden as a sanctuary where even “birds felt louder.”

“Gardening has been my salvation,” a respondent from the U.S. noted. “I’m very grateful I can surround myself with beauty as a buffer to the depressing news COVID brings each day.”

Another German gardener wrote that their garden became their “little safe universe in a very uncertain and somewhat dangerous time. … We have learned to appreciate the so far very high value of ‘own land, own refuge’ even more.”

A green prescription

As life returns to normal, work ramps up and obligations mount, I wonder how many pandemic gardens are already being neglected.

Will a hobby born out of unique circumstances recede into the background?

I hope not. Gardening shouldn’t be something that’s only taken up in times of crises. If anything, the pandemic showed how gardens serve a public health need – that they’re not only places of beauty or sources of food, but also conduits for healing.

In fact, several countries like New Zealand, Canada and some in Europe now allow “green prescriptions” to be issued as alternatives to medication. These are directives from doctors to spend a certain amount of time outdoors each day or month – an acknowledgment of the very real health benefits, from lowered stress to better sleep and improved memory, that venturing into nature can offer.

I also think of the people who never had a chance to garden in the first place during the pandemic. Not everyone has a backyard or can afford gardening tools. Improving access to home gardens, urban green spaces and community gardens could be an important way to boost well-being and health.

Making seeding, planting, pruning and harvesting part of your daily routine seems to open up more opportunities, too.

“I never previously had the time to commit to a garden,” one first-time gardener told us, “but [I’ve] found such satisfaction and happiness in watching things grow. It has been a catalyst for making other positive changes in my life.”

CSIRO principal research scientist Brenda Lin, Swinburne University of Technology Health Promotion Lecturer Jonathan Kingsley, UCCE Santa Clara County Urban Agriculture and Food Systems Advisor Lucy Diekmann, Technical University of Munich Urban Productive Ecosystems Professor Monika Egerer, University of Tasmania Rural Health Geographer Pauline Marsh, and University of California, Davis Urban and Regional Planning graduate student Summer Cortez contributed to this research

Alessandro Ossola, Assistant Professor, University of California, Davis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Critical benefits of snowpack for winter wheat are diminishing

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

University of Minnesota scientists are partnering with a global team to study the complex effects of climate change on winter crops. 

Warming winters may sound like a welcome change for some farmers because the change in temperature could reduce freezing stress on plants and create more ideal conditions for growing overwinter cash crops and winter cover crops. However, when looking at climate change from a cross-seasonal perspective and accounting for declining snowpack, researchers are finding that the whole picture isn’t so sunny. 

Reduced snow may result in more exposure of winter crops to freeze and could mean greater risks for agricultural drought. 

In a new study published in Nature Climate ChangeZhenong Jin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota, led an international team in researching the implications that could be associated with warmer winters and declining snowpack, using winter wheat (the largest winter crop in the U.S.) as an example. 

He bought the house 9 months ago. Then the ocean swept it away.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Buyers, many from out of state, continue to gobble up oceanfront real estate where three homes have collapsed this year along N.C.’s Outer Banks. Scientists and government officials say climate change is likely to continue to exacerbate erosion.

Assessing environmental impact of measures in the OECD Green Recovery Database

Download the document.

This Policy Brief provides the key findings and policy insights from the April 2022 update of OECD Green Recovery Database, which tracks recovery measures with a clear environmental impact adopted by OECD member countries, the European Union and selected large economies. Since the previous update in September 2021, the budget allocated to environmentally positive measures increased from USD 677 billion to USD 1 090 billion, while recovery spending with ‘mixed’ impacts increased from USD 163 billion to USD 290 billion. The Brief also explores how well-designed green recovery plans can generate the double dividend of enhanced energy security and better environmental outcomes, in the face of energy security concerns triggered by the war in Ukraine.

It’s time to electrify industry’s process heat — with heat pumps

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

As gas prices soar, a familiar but little-used technology — industrial heat pumps (IHP) — offers a compelling path to greater electrification and energy security, according to a report published last month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The research shows that, where applied, IHPs could cut U.S. industrial energy use associated with process heat (the heat that powers manufacturing) by up to one-third and eliminate the equivalent of 9 million cars’ emissions.

Kelp boom hinges on supply chain and carbon market investments

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Excitement about kelp farming is sky-high (or ocean deep?). They seem like the do-it-all solution to many of today’s most pressing problems. Kelp can draw down carbon, restore the health of coastal ecosystems, nourish people and revive coastal economies. But farming kelp successfully is also pretty complicated. 

That’s where this week’s good news comes in. On Monday, the regenerative ocean farming non-profit GreenWave launched a virtual ocean farming hub. It’s the most comprehensive resource to date — providing a free training program for ocean farmers and an interactive community hub. With it, the organization is responding to the exponential rise in interest for ocean farming training resources it has experienced since its launch six years ago. 

How a Nebraska ethanol plant turned seeds into toxic waste

Read the full story at Grist.

State regulators shuttered the AltEn plant in 2021 after years of environmental violations. Residents are just beginning to grapple with its toxic legacy.

Apple is now using more recycled products than ever – even gold

Read the full story at Tech Radar.

Apple has expanded the use of recycled materials and rare metals in the iPhone, Mac, and other devices as part of its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its products.

For the first time Apple has introduced certified recycled gold into its supply chain and has doubled the use of recycled tungsten, rare earth elements and cobalt.

Pregnant people are at ‘greater risk’ in states hit hard by wildfire smoke, air pollution, new report shows

Read the full story at The 19th.

The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report shows wildfires and heat are making air quality worse for those living in the West.

Cleaning up lakes and oceans

Read the full story from Northwestern University.

With a sponge that looks like one you might find in your kitchen, Northwestern University researchers have discovered how to effectively clean up oil, microplastics and phosphate pollution.

This sponge could help clean up oil spills without harming marine life and prevent algae blooms from forming when phosphate builds up to dangerous levels. To recover and reuse dwindling natural resources — like oil and phosphate — the sponge can simply be wrung out.

Northwestern engineer Vinayak Dravid, who developed the new tool, said the novel technology can accommodate multiple functions, much like a Swiss Army knife. The sponge absorbs 99% of phosphate ions it encounters and 30 times its weight in oil.