Gardening for Wellbeing

Thanks to another lockdown, Kiwis have been stuck indoors recently – and I don’t know about you, but it’s really increased my appetite for outside time! Luckily, gardening is a great way to spend some time in nature without necessarily leaving home and it has a huge range of wellbeing benefits.

Whether you’re just tending a couple of houseplants or growing a veritable orchard in your backyard, gardening is fun, satisfying and incredibly good for you.

From giving you a workout to lifting your mood on a grey day, gardening has more to offer than meets the eye – and it’s open to anybody, regardless of age or ability. So, why should you get your hands stuck in some soil? Read on to find out.

Treat your body

Most people know that gardening is a mood-booster. But it’s also incredibly good for your body. Gardening for 30 minutes burns a comparable number of calories to playing badminton or volleyball or practising yoga, so you can count it as an exercise session.

Plus, because you’re focusing on pulling up weeds or sowing seeds, you’re more likely to enjoy the exercise than if you were sweating it out at the gym.

Gardening also puts you (hopefully!) in reach of the sun, which lowers blood pressure and helps you get the vitamin D your body needs to function at its peak. Sunlight exposure also triggers the release of serotonin – the feel-good hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle.

Beyond the benefits of moving around outdoors, some scientists also believe that working with soil is good for your physical health because it exposes you to microbes you might not usually come across in daily life, especially if you live in a city.

Exposure to the friendly bacteria in soil can boost your immune system and help ward off problems like asthma and allergies.

And even if you don’t spend much time gardening, increasing your exposure to green spaces is excellent for your health.

According to an ever-growing body of research, more time spent in green spaces such as parks and gardens is linked to long-term reductions in health problems like heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions.

Gardening is also linked to lower levels of obesity and high physical activity.

Grow your own food

One of the most satisfying types of gardening is growing your own food. There’s nothing like harvesting your first tomatoes or eating your first salad with greens you’ve grown yourself, and watching your blueberry plant or broccoli change from day to day is ridiculously exciting.

Growing your own fruit, veggies, herbs and mushrooms can be a source of real pride and joy, and it’s much easier to get started than you might think. 

Allotment gardening of fruit and veggies – especially in densely populated urban areas – has been found to improve mood and self-esteem.

Plus, growing your own food is a fun way to start your own ‘farm to fork’ sustainability project. Not only will you know exactly where your food comes from and that it’s pesticide free, there are also zero travel miles associated with getting it to you – a huge environmental win.

You’ll also likely be eating more plant-based foods – who doesn’t want to eat gorgeous veggies they’ve grown themselves?! – which are much lighter on the planet.

If you’re a keen cook, produce gardening is a particular joy because it encourages creativity in the kitchen. As anybody with a feijoa tree knows, when the season hits, you usually have more produce than you know how to use.

One particularly abundant year, I found myself making not just feijoa crumbles and smoothies, but jars of cardamom-spiked feijoa chutney to give away.

I love the challenge of using up plentiful produce and the fact it always has me, a real creature of habit, trying new recipes.

A glut of fruit and veg is always fun – but growing your own food from seed can start small, too. For beginner gardeners, lettuce is a great place to begin, because sprouts typically emerge less than two weeks after planting, offering quick rewards.

Plant lettuce in stages for a continuous harvest from early spring until early summer, then start the cycle again in late summer until frost. Space the seeds according to the packet instructions under about 1cm of soil and water consistently.

If you don’t have a garden at home, micro-gardening might be for you: even just some herbs on the sill can bring a bit of sunshine into your day.

Clear your mind

The anecdotal evidence for gardening as an effective form of therapy is enormous.

People have reported feeling calmer, less anxious and happier after gardening for hundreds of years.

As long ago as 1577, the author of an Elizabethan gardening guide wrote, “The life of man in this world is but thraldom, when the Sences are not pleased and what rarer object can there be on earth… than a beautifull and Odoriferous Garden plot”.

Being in a gorgeous garden was, in other words, a mood booster even then.

Now, the science exists to show that gardening is extremely good for your mental health. Research released this year by the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society shows that those who garden every day have wellbeing scores 6.6 per cent higher than those who don’t and stress levels 4.2 per cent lower than people who don’t garden at all.

Overall, the Society suggests gardening every day has the same positive impact on wellbeing as taking regular, vigorous exercise like cycling or running, because our brains are pleasantly distracted by the nature around us and the simple tasks we’re involved in.

Gardening helps us shift the focus off ourselves and our worries, restoring our minds and reducing negative feelings. It also gives people a valuable sense of purpose and progress, because the garden changes from day to day and you can literally observe growth – something often rare in everyday life!

As Jade Miles of Black Barn Farm, author of the book Future Steading, writes, in gardening, “there are no judgements and no rules. The time frames are dictated by forces much bigger than me, so I am humbled by perspective, relinquish my ability to influence and simply do what I can: press my hands into the soil, feel the seeds side through my fingers, read the seasons, revel in my observations and share my wins”.

Additionally, exposure to green space is linked to improved mental health – so even if you’re just sitting in your garden rather than actively gardening, you’ll experience a benefit.

A 2014 study by the University of Exeter Medical School found that people living near green space reported less mental distress even after adjusting for income, education and employment, and an earlier study by Dutch researchers found lower incidences of depression and anxiety among people who lived within half a mile of green space.

Green space exposure is also linked to higher self-rated mental health: people don’t just feel better after time outdoors, they know they do.

If you’re having a wobbly day, getting your hands stuck into some soil – or at least sitting outside in some green space – might just lift your mood.

Feel less lonely

Although perhaps not during a lockdown, gardening can be an enjoyable social activity. So much so, in fact, that the UK’s National Health Service has begun prescribing gardening as a social “medicine” or “therapy” to combat loneliness and depression.

From sharing seeds and swapping planting tips to gardening in groups, getting out in nature can be an excellent way to make new friends and meet people in your local area.

There are plenty of Facebook groups where you can get started, or I’d recommend putting out feelers on You’ll not only meet fellow gardeners but likely find a home for those excess lemons!

Community gardens are also a great way to get involved with the social side of gardening. As shared garden spaces that are tended to by multiple people in one area, they’re naturally a great place to meet others – and have even been shown to reduce crime and depression among their communities.

Alternatively, attending a gardening event will bring you into orbit with other gardening enthusiasts – simply pop “gardening” into Eventbrite to see events near you.

Do your bit for the planet

If environmental sustainability is important to you, gardening should be on your radar.

Growing your own food saves travel miles, cuts down on pesticides and even encourages a greener, more plant-heavy diet. In turn, if you’re composting your food scraps to fertilise your garden, you’re taking that organic waste out of landfill and finding a worthwhile use for it – a pillar of green living.

Your garden also provides a sanctuary for bees, who often struggle to find flowers in urban areas. And overall, gardens can help mitigate climate change by reducing the risk of flooding and moderating air pollution, particularly in densely populated areas.

Gardening for body and soul

In short, gardening is a boon for your physical, mental and social wellbeing, and a genuinely environmentally friendly hobby.

Whether you’re a seasoned greenfingers or an enthusiastic newcomer, gardening has plenty to offer you – from improved mood to new friends to better immunity and fitness.

Keen but not sure where to start? Read on for an insight into two of Aotearoa’s loveliest community gardens, where you too could get involved, or check out our section on micro-gardening below if you’d like to start small.

Alternatively, if you’re an experienced gardener looking for fresh inspiration, check out the gardening pages in any issue of Good. Happy gardening – it’s as easy as sowing your first seed!


If you’re keen to start gardening but you haven’t got a lot of space, micro-gardening might be just what you need. Whether you’re in an apartment with a shoebox balcony, or you’ve only got the kitchen sill, you can still grow a little something special, and reap all the benefits of gardening while doing so.

What is micro-gardening?

Micro-gardening is defined as gardening in a small space such as a balcony, patio, rooftop or window box, and is a way for urban dwellers to garden despite space restrictions.

Micro-gardeners have long grown vegetables and herbs in pots and baby plots of soil, but modern micro-gardening also uses containers like crates, plastic boxes and even old tyres.

You can plant your produce in a container filled with garden soil or a ‘substrate’ of available natural materials, such as coarse sand, peanut shells or coconut fibre. Growing your veggies on water enriched with a soluble fertiliser is another, even less messy option.

Micro-gardening is a great sustainable initiative – not only because it provides you with fresh, plant-based produce without the usual travel miles, but also because it can integrate eco-friendly techniques like rainwater harvesting and using composted household waste as fertiliser.

What’s the point of a tiny garden, you might ask? Well, you might be surprised how much food it produces.

Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations show that a micro-garden of one square metre could produce around 200 tomatoes per year or 36 heads of lettuce every 60 days. Imagine never having to buy salad again!

So, what can I grow?

Because micro-gardening involves small spaces, you’re best off sticking to smaller fruit and veg – for example, tomatoes and onions rather than pumpkins or eggplants.

A range of dwarf-size veggies also exist, including dwarf bok choy and rocky cucumbers. Salad leaves such as baby spinach, chard and lettuce, as well as microgreens like mung beans and alfalfa sprouts, are also a great choice.

If you’re a total beginner, you could try using a seed mat to get you started – Micropod NZ and Mr. Fothergill’s produce some beautiful ones!

Alternatively, take a look at The micro gardener. This Australian blogger has aggregated a wealth of tips on micro-gardening and will hold your hand through the whole process.

To grow your own herbs, pick up a plant from your local nursery, pop it on a saucer still in its pot and leave on a sunny sill, watering as needed. Repot into a bigger indoor pot after a few weeks and keep showing it that TLC – you’ll soon have fresh rosemary all year round!

You could also try growing your own mushrooms. You’ll need a kit to get started, but these are extremely easy and satisfying to grow – and because they grow so much from day to day, they’re great to watch with kids. 

Simply pop your mushroom kit somewhere out of direct light that you don’t mind keeping a bit damp, such as in the bathroom or under the sink. Good Vibes Fungi, House of Fungi and Mushroom Gourmet offer great ‘grow-your-own’ kits in New Zealand.

What to do with your bounty

  • Sprinkle micro-greens on a salad or add to sandwiches for a pop of colour and nutrients
  • Eat your colours by growing a range of different veg
  • Add excitement to dinner with your favourite herbs
  • Teach kids about the cycle of life by tracking your seeds’ growth day by day
  • Make friends with your neighbours by gifting spare produce


Community gardens are shared plots of land where people can communally garden fruit, veggies, flowers and other plants – and they’re the beating hearts of communities up and down the country.

Not only do they prettify an area, turning unused plots of land into an attractive sea of green, they provide locals with a chance to garden even if they don’t have an allotment at home.

If you’re new to gardening and need a little guidance, or are hoping to make gardening a social activity, getting involved at your local community garden might be just the ticket.

It’s usually free to chip in and everyone is welcome! If you’re interested in starting your own community garden, it’s definitely doable – visit the Yates website for some tips.

But if you’re keen to jump into an existing garden, you can usually find a list of the community gardens operating in your region on your local council website. Below, we take a look at a couple of our favourites around the country. 

Kelmarna Gardens in Ponsonby, Auckland

Lush Kelmarna Gardens, which stretch over 1.7 hectares of council-owned land in inner-city Auckland, were started in 1981 by a man called Paul Lagerstedt.

“He had a vision of opening a community site to demonstrate how people could be self-sufficient using organic techniques,” says Adrian Roche, community and site manager at the Gardens. “He was pretty ahead of his time – the word organic was not a well-understood word 40 years ago.”

The philosophy

When Lagerstedt opened the Gardens, they were on what was considered “marginal land”. “It’s amazing that this was marginal land because it’s right in the middle of Ponsonby,” says Roche. “There’s this incredible story of [Lagerstedt] being driven around by this guy from the council, being offered different bits of land.” 

At that time, it wasn’t difficult to get the permission to open a community garden, Roche explains, but getting Kelmarna to where it is now was a labour of love.

“The work to start the Gardens was pretty intense,” he says. “There was a kikuyu paddock they had to remove, and it was an incredible amount of physical work to pull off all the grass and then reintroduce fertility.

“But they did a fairly amazing job, when you look at the photos. And then they started growing food… [Lagerstedt] was very inspired by an American man called John Jeavons, who had written a book called How to Grow More Vegetables. Cramming in food, growing it as efficiently as possible – that was the philosophy at the time.”

Local, urban farm

Today, Kelmarna is a busy urban farm, tucked away behind houses in Herne Bay’s Hukanui Crescent and Kelmarna Avenue.

The site boasts over 600m2 in vegetable gardens, mostly managed communally by the core staff and a team of volunteers; a food forest containing fruit trees, perennial herbs and annual crops like pumpkins and potatoes; 9,000m2 of pasture divided into seven paddocks that have been home to everything from cattle and sheep to a pony owned by a local family; a small flock of layer hens; a diverse array of composting systems, including hot composting, worm farming and bokashi; and beehives supported by the many flowering plants onsite. Much of the produce is available to buy at the shop onsite.

Certified Organic through OrganicFarmNZ, Kelmarna Gardens uses regenerative organic methods to grow fruit and veg, compost community food scraps in its Soil Factory and sustain its animals.

That means their gardening and farming not only result in organic produce for the community, but look after the health of the soil, sequester carbon to help combat climate change and support the garden’s biodiversity in the process.

Community champion

But the heart of the gardens is not so much food production as community involvement. Kelmarna runs a popular horticultural therapy programme for those with mental health needs or intellectual disabilities to garden for therapeutic purposes.

Participants learn about organic food-growing practices, contribute to garden upkeep and help prep shared lunches for garden volunteers – all in a social, peaceful environment.

Historically, Kelmarna was subleased to a mental health provider for 22 years between 1992 and 2015.

“The focus was on supporting people’s mental health and while the provider had to keep the gardens open to the public and certified organic, the focus wasn’t really on providing loads of food, it was on looking after people,” says Roche.

“Since 2015, we’ve been in a new era, but that community spirit is still really important to us.”

He mentions that when the Kelmarna Trust took the Gardens back over in 2015, there was a moment when it could have gone either way.

“There were a lot of meetings about what we should do now – there was no one to pay wages and we had a head office that employed people, so it was a bit of an ‘oh shit!’ moment. But through that process of figuring out what we were here for and what we wanted to do, the Trust committed to keeping Kelmarna as a therapeutic space. 

“They didn’t have to, it’s not part of their legal obligations, but I think it had been a therapeutic space for so long, it just felt wrong not to keep offering it as a sanctuary. That was pretty amazing.”

As well as a therapeutic programme, the Gardens offer workshops for kids and adults and educational programmes teaching kids of all ages about organic gardening – and, of course, they simply provide a beautiful space for members of the local community to luxuriate in.

“There’s no gate that gets locked up at night,” says Roche. “It’s just a tranquil space for people to visit and enjoy, like they might the Domain or Cornwall Park. And it’s quite intensively managed but there are still some slightly wild areas – so it looks very beautiful, but not manicured.

“In suburban Auckland, the focus is on land and housing and property values – but this place is definitely not about that. What’s special about Kelmarna is its commitment to making space to grow food in the city.”

Keen to get involved?

Kelmarna is open to volunteers on Fridays (9am-1.30pm) and Saturdays (9am-12pm).

Everyone is welcome, regardless of their gardening ability, and will learn about organic gardening practices onsite. Volunteers can also assist with animal care and simply spend time in nature, and on Fridays, there’s a shared hot lunch made from garden produce. 

Kelmarna also runs a specialised Farmhands 16-week volunteering training programme – and if your interest lies in composting, the Gardens are always looking for Soil Factory volunteers to collect and compost food scraps from local households. 

With its ramshackle buildings, sprawling gardens and warm community feeling, this special spot is definitely worth a visit even if you’re not a local.

Al Noor/An Nur Mosque Community Garden

There’s been a vege patch at the Al Noor/An Nur Mosque in Christchurch, the site of the 2019 Christchurch shootings, since the mosque’s inception.

“For several years before the shootings, there was a brother called Hussein Mustapha who was looking after the garden. Because of Hussein, the garden always looked great and produced a lot,” remembers garden-tender Kynan Buckingham.

But Mustapha was shot on March 15, 2019, and for months afterwards, the mosque was off limits and the garden became grown over.

A new lease on life

The garden has recently experienced a renaissance. Buckingham started tidying the garden beds as soon as the mosque grounds were reopened, but soon realised it was not a one-man job. 

“Many people in our community were traumatised at that time and they felt uncomfortable being in and around the mosque, so I was limited in who I could get to help me from amongst my Muslim brothers and sisters,” he says. 

So he reached out to contacts he had at the Richmond Community Gardens, and word soon spread amongst other community gardens in Christchurch.

People were only too happy to help, and after a day-long collaborative working bee involving lots of local gardeners, the vege plot was starting to look good again.

A true community space

The two plots at 101 Deans Avenue grow vegetables that are placed out the front of the mosque for people to take for free or handed out to whoever’s around at harvest time.

“I think they like the fact that it is fresh and organic,” says Buckingham. “Everyone just accepts what they get with a smile and says: ‘May Allah provide you with better’ (than what you are giving me).”

But it’s also an important space for Christchurch’s Muslim community, especially as they’ve drawn together after the 2019 attacks.

“We organise mini working bees from time to time and these sessions get people to come together to chat while doing something together,” says Buckingham.

“It also gives us that ‘feel good factor’ because we are doing the noble deed of caring for our mosque.”

The garden has previously brought the community together in its Harvest Picnics, an event held the past two years and involving both Muslim and non-Muslim community members.

The first Picnic came about after the initial working bee clean up after the shootings, when non-Muslim volunteers who had been involved asked when they could return to the mosque.

“Along with Cathy and Hayley from Richmond Community Garden, I thought about it and came up with the idea of an event whereby the members of the Muslim community cook up dishes from ingredients contributed by community gardens,” says Buckingham.

“So in March 2020 and 2021 hundreds of people came to An Nur Mosque and shared kai and mingled beside our little community garden. And, to think it was all because of the passing of Hussein Mustapha – he would be very happy with what has transpired.”

Getting involved

Buckingham says he’s always keen for more people to get involved at the garden – even with jobs as small as pulling up weeds.

There’s usually someone in the garden on Saturday mornings, but community members also tend the gardens sporadically; follow the mosque’s Facebook page for more updates.

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