As cities continue to expand, urban front garden greenery has declined. A recent study by Frost & Murtagh, published in Perspectives in Public Health, highlights the potential benefits of encouraging planting in front gardens, including mental and physical health advantages and positive local environmental impacts, such as reducing flood risk and improving air quality. The researchers aimed to explore adults’ views on front garden greenery, the barriers to and facilitators of planting, and their understanding of the related health and environmental impacts. They found that while English front gardens may be ecologically poor, it is important to their owners that they’re tidy.
Frost & Murtagh conducted five online focus groups with 20 participants aged 20-64 in England. The participants were purposively sampled, meaning non-randomly sampled, ensuring a diverse representation of age, gender, home ownership, income, ethnicity, and whether they lived in an urban or suburban area. The focus groups were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analysed using thematic analysis, a method that identifies patterns of meaning across qualitative data.
The study found that front gardening was perceived as a relaxing activity, with benefits such as increased well-being, fresh air, and vitamin D exposure. However, participants also identified several barriers to planting in their front gardens. Factors such as available time and space, garden orientation, local security, and weather conditions significantly influenced their decisions. Additionally, front gardens were seen as a place for social interaction, with participants prioritising neatness and tidiness over greenery.
Lack of knowledge and low self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to complete a task or achieve a goal – emerged as key barriers to planting. The researchers found that, to some extent, gardeners inherited their green fingers – or lack of them. In their article, Frost & Murtagh write:
Less confident gardeners typically relied on knowledge and advice, or gardening itself, from more expert partners or parents. There was a strong intergenerational quality to gardening – most participants (whether non-gardeners or gardeners) had learnt about gardening through family members, often parents or grandparents.Frost & Murtagh 2023
The study also revealed a limited awareness of the environmental benefits of front garden greenery. Nevertheless, participants viewed the potential to reduce flood risk and encourage biodiversity positively. Frost & Murtagh write:
Front garden greenery offers additional indirect health benefits through environmental services, including reducing local flood risk, cooling the home in hot weather and reducing air pollution from the street. There are further benefits from vegetation and soil to carbon sequestration and to supporting biodiversity. It is therefore important to encourage the activity of gardening specifically in front gardens, to increase the level and quality of street greenery as well as ecosystem service co-benefits. Simple interventions such as introducing a small number of potted plants to front gardens in deprived areas show reduced stress, improvements in salivary cortisol parameters and increased sense of pride and care in the street.Frost & Murtagh 2023
Based on these findings, Frost & Murtagh suggest that initiatives aiming to encourage front garden planting should focus on plants that require little knowledge to acquire and care for, are suitable to local environmental conditions, and create a visual impact of neatness and bright colour. Campaigns should also highlight the local flood risk reduction and increasing biodiversity aspects, in addition to the personal health benefits of gardening.
Reclaiming urban front gardens by planting greenery can offer many benefits for individuals and their communities. It can also have significant benefits for wildlife, such as bumblebees or hedgehogs, who have a slight preference for front gardens. By helping wildlife, gardeners may also be able to help themselves.
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Frost, R.H. and Murtagh, N. (2023) “Encouraging planting in urban front gardens: a focus group study,” Perspectives in Public Health, 143(2), pp. 80–88. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/17579139231163738.