Healing Gardens – plant, prospect, harvest, health


Healing Gardens

We are testing to what extent gardening can help cancer patients meeting the norms of physical activity and fruit and vegetable intake, and to what extent gardening in a group can function as a form of social support.

Research in the United States shows that gardening helps (former) cancer patients to increase physical exercise, increase access to fruit and vegetables, and take up vitamin D. As part of AMS Institute’s research programme The Feeding City at the Flevo Campus, Parkhuys Almere, Flevoziekenhuis and Donkergroen, we as Wageningen University and Research aim to find out if we can achieve the same effects in the Netherlands. The first step in this research is a pilot project called ‘Healing Gardens’ in which cancer patients can garden under supervision. The results of the pilot will be used as input for a larger research program.

Aim and objectives

Our objective is to set up a large and structured research program to examine the physical and mental effects gardening can have on cancer patients. There is convincing evidence that a healthy diet and regular physical activity, especially when started during the medical treatment, have a positive effect on recovery. Therefore, many therapeutic treatments for cancer patients are focused on the recommendation to eat healthily and exercise more. However, this is not attractive for the majority of recovering cancer patients: less than 25% of patients manage to consume a sufficient quantity of vegetables and comply with the physical activity guidelines. Possibly, gardening is a method that better suits patients’ needs, capabilities and interests. Gardening is a physical activity that exposes people to fruit and vegetables in a natural way, and working in the outdoors provides the necessary vitamin D.

The Pilot

A first step in this research program is a pilot project that we are currently developing. The aim of this pilot is to test the study design and measurements used, and to identify the needs of potential participants, such as whether people enjoy maintaining a communal plot, or rather prefer an individual space, and how much focus there should be on mental support for the patients.  The pilot will start this spring on the grounds of Parkhuys, where we will place containers in which participants can grow fruits and vegetables. The pilot will be treated as one of the regular activities offered by Parkhuys, so that professional support and guidance by Parkhuys’ volunteers is available.