New research adds to mounting evidence that gardening can help improve mental health for many people.

Recently published in PLOS ONE, the study by scientists from the University of Florida found that gardening activities help lower stress, anxiety, and depression in healthy women who attended gardening classes twice a week. None of the participants in the study had tried gardening before.

“Past studies have shown that gardening can help improve the mental health of people who have existing medical conditions or challenges. Our study shows that healthy people can also experience a boost in mental well-being through gardening,” said Charles Guy, lead researcher and a professor emeritus in the UF/IFAS environmental horticulture department.

During the gardening sessions, participants learned how to transplant different plants, compare and sow seeds, and harvest and taste edible plants. Other participants had art-making sessions, learning techniques like printmaking, paper-making, and drawing.

"Larger-scale studies may reveal more about how gardening is correlated with changes in mental health. We believe this research shows promise for mental well-being, plants in healthcare and in public health. It would be great to see other researchers use our work as a basis for those kinds of studies,” Guy added.

The participants completed a series of assessments that measured stress, mood, depression, and anxiety. The researchers discovered that the groups that did gardening and art-making experienced similar mental health improvements, with gardeners reporting slightly less anxiety than those who did art.

It was not the first time researchers looked at the positive effects of nature on mental and emotional health.

A previous study by a research team from the University of Exeter Medical School found that green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits. With the findings published in Environmental Science and Technology, the research team used data from 1,000 participants. They found that people who moved to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that lasted for at least three years.

Therapeutic horticulture, or the idea of using gardening to promote better health, has also been around since the 19th century.