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11 Dec 2022

How plant power can combat Christmas stress

The mental health benefits of nature are well recorded. Here are some tips from a Horticulturist on how to use the power of plants to boost your wellbeing during the busy and sometimes stressful Christmas season.

Senior horticulturalist Bryn Hutchinson at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney specialises in the connection between plants and mental health and recommends “green bathing” for those who need respite from festive-season stress. 

“To relieve the pressures of never-ending festive social events and the Christmas-present buying spree, take time out and relax among plants - both with individual plants and in gardens,” Bryn said.

“Have you noticed how large green spaces, such as your local park or the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney can have hundreds of people walking through them, yet you still feel relaxed and in a place of serenity?

“Collections of trees and plants create this relaxed feeling so do some ‘green bathing’ this Christmas,” said Bryn.

Senior horticulturalist Bryn Hutchinson at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney specialises in the connection between plants and mental health

Research reveals healing power of plants

Research published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture has revealed spending time in both natural settings and cultivated gardens can improve mood and reduce the negative effects of stress, facts Bryn knows only too well.

Before Bryn developed a passion about the power of plants, he began his career as a social worker with a focus on people and their different challenges. In 2013 he completed his Masters at the University of Sydney on the cultural impacts of human and plant co-evolution.

“So, if Christmas is becoming too much, go for a stroll in your local park or green space and purposefully observe the trees and other plants.

“Considering their form, shape, colour, smell and sound – I personally love the sound of a summer breeze swooshing through a Casuarina tree.

“Notice how other animals and insects are interacting with the plants and each other. Purposeful engagement with nature is a proven stress relief,” said Bryn.

“Research shows that being in green spaces and in nature reduces our heart rate and helps us to feel less stressed and these are good, non-threatening, therapeutic environments,” 
Bryn Hutchinson
If Christmas is becoming too much go to your local park and purposefully observe the trees and other plants

How plants can boost Christmas cheer

For those who have backyards, Bryn said one way to boost Christmas cheer was light work in the garden and enjoying each process whether it is working the soil or pruning.

“If you don’t have access to a garden, then plant some radish seeds in a pot. They are one of the fastest growing vegetables, take up little space and it is a great way to introduce young minds to the joys and benefits of caring for yourself by caring for plants” Bryn said.

“There is a gardening task for every age and skill so it can genuinely be a family activity that connects you to nature.”

Bryn said evidence suggests greenery provided by pot plants in homes can have a beneficial impact on people’s mood and perhaps air quality – so they can make the ideal Christmas present.

“We also know that the act of caring for a pot plant can have some of the same positive effects of looking after pets, just with less demands for food and attention. So, they make great easy-care gifts for Christmas,” Bryn said. “My hot tip here is that most plants are killed by overwatering, so only water them once the potting mix is dry to the touch.

“Why not make a present for all your neighbours and create a veggie garden on the council nature strip outside your home. They are easy to grow and care for and provide great for seasoning festive cooking!

“Many councils encourage people to turn these public nature strip verges into gardens so check with your local council.”

A Wollemi Pine makes a great Christmas present

Working with plants has social benefits

Bryn said there is also social network benefits using therapy and horticulture through garden projects like the Community Greening, a program managed by the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.  

Since its inception in 2000, Community Greening has reached more than 100,000 participants in NSW including adults and children to promote communal garden projects.

When Community Greening participants were surveyed about direct impacts in their lives, the feedback demonstrated 85% positive effect on health and 91% said it had a positive effect on their community; 73% are exercising more and 61% are eating better.

Bryn said the nature therapy can work for everyone – not just those who suffer from mental health challenges. “The exposure to plants and nature helps people who don’t feel they have mental health issues. It makes everyone feel better and more relaxed,” Bryn said.

“Research shows that someone will get benefits working with plants irrespective if they have been involved or have worked in gardens before – and that’s a powerful message.” 
Bryn Hutchinson
Community Greening projects promote communal gardening, which has great social benefits
Want to relax in nature this holiday season? Try a guided Nature Therapy Walk at the Royal Botanic Garden, Australian Botanic Garden or Blue Mountains Botanic Garden.