Queen's doctor prescribes more gardening

The president of the Royal College of Physicians and doctor to the Queen has said we need more parks and gardens and doctors should prescribe more gardening.

Sir Richard Thompson at the AIPH event
Sir Richard Thompson at the AIPH event

Sir Richard Thompson was one of 12 speakers at the AIPH International Green City Conference 2014 held in central London on Tuesday, where he shared a number of studies which showed the benefits of both gardening and access to gardens and green space.

He said: "There are huge potential savings for the NHS. I suggest that we should prescribe more gardening and make more gardens. We want more green parks."

Thompson, who was doctor to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for 21 years before retiring from active practice, said the benefits of gardens to mental and physical health had been known for centuries. In Egypt court gardens were created for mental health and Japan has a long history of contemplation gardens. Later in the UK hospitals were designed within garden or park settings.

A 2002 study by Robert Ulrich found hospital gardens improved mood, and reduced stress for patients, families and staff but only if they contained biodiversity. A "sculpture bird garden" actually had a negative effect.

Thompson said that having ornamental plants indoors led to less use of painkillers and that just viewing plants improved people’s heart rate. He said trees and parks were important because they removed particulates from the air, another massive cause of disease.

He added: "Inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death. We must increase activity and improve the environment for people to exercise in. A lot of people think that backs are damaged by gardening but if you garden properly it increases the strength of your back. Some people say there’s a gym outside your window."

Thompson, who called gardening "complementary therapy" showed a list of activities and how many calories each burns. Shovelling burns more calories than going on a treadmill.

His comments come in the wake of a British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigation which showed that local authority-run parks and green spaces were among a range of cash-strapped departments getting part of the ringfenced public health budget, something which was criticised by physicians in the report. It was not clear if the money paid for general maintenance or more targeted efforts to improve health and boost exercise within parks.

During a question and answer session following Thompson’s speech Tony Leach from the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum questioned the negative views of some fellow physicians in the BMJ report.

Thompson said he had not yet read it but in general agreed he wanted to encourage GPs to see gardening and access to green space as important.

Thompson also said he was "pretty worried" about prisoners getting no sunlight, something which leads to a deficiency of vitamin D.

See the next issue of Horticulture Week for more AIPH conference reports.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Read These Next



These evergreen architectural plants provide feathery foliage and seasonal colour, writes Miranda Kimberley.



These pretty flowers are great for amenity planting and combine well with grasses, says Miranda Kimberley.



These versatile flowering shrubs offer great value and are easy to grow, notes Miranda Kimberley.

Partner Content

How does Merchant Taylors' School use its fleet of Kubota machinery?

How does Merchant Taylors' School use its fleet of Kubota machinery?

Find out how Merchant Taylors' School uses its expansive fleet of Kubota machinery to maintain the large areas of ground.

Partner Content presented by Kubota

Horticulture Week Top 70 Landscape and maintenance contractors

See our exclusive RANKING of landscape and maintenance contractors by annual turnover plus BUSINESS TRENDS REPORT AND ANALYSIS

Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs


Build your business with the latest public sector tenders covering landscape, arboriculture, grounds care, production and kit supplies. To receive the latest tenders weekly to your inbox sign up for our Tenders Tracker bulletin here.

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.


Free to subscribers, the essential guide for professional plant buyers

Download your copy

Products & Kit Resources