Community Gardening as a Social Prescribing Tool

Staff and volunteers working with Grow Cardiff have experienced first-hand the positive health benefits associated with growing food.

Grow Cardiff

Grant Awarded: £15,000

Phase Completed: Research and Development

Grow Cardiff supports people to create and sustain community gardens and growing spaces across the city. Established in 2015, they work across 11 sites in Cardiff and have supported hundreds of people to feel healthier, happier and more connected to their community through gardening projects.

The Grow Well project is a partnership with the South West Cardiff GP cluster and has been running for just over 18 months. The project operates in two garden sites – one in Ely and the other in Canton. GPs and other frontline NHS staff from across the 11 surgeries in the Cluster can refer patients. Patients do everything from growing fresh produce to watering, weeding, harvesting, creative arts and crafts, making raised beds and digging out ponds. In April 2018 patients on the project were supported to create a feature garden for the Royal Horticultural Show in Cardiff.

The idea 

Demand for healthcare is increasing and cost pressures on the NHS in Wales are rising every year. Social Prescribing (SP) is a way to link patients with other non-medicalised sources of community support such as gardening, arts and well-being groups. Community gardening as a ‘tool’ in the SP ‘toolkit’, has a range of psychological benefits through access to nature, and nurture through community group participation. It also provides activities that increase levels of physical activity and access to fresh fruit and vegetables.  As such community gardening delivers a holistic approach to supporting patients’ physical, mental health and wellbeing.

Staff and volunteers working with Grow Cardiff have experienced first-hand the positive health benefits associated with growing food and saw Innovate to Save as a platform to better understand and evidence these benefits, whilst capturing the positive economic impacts on the NHS.

What happened 

Grow worked at two sites in Cardiff to explore whether a gardening prescription issued to patients with a range of conditions could: 

  1. improve patients’ physical and mental health and well-being in the SW Cardiff GP Cluster 
  2. Ascertain whether any improvements to patient health and well-being through the project, could make cashable savings for the NHS 

There were some limitations to the research that Grow was able to undertake through their Innovate to Save journey to do with seasonality. Pre and post surveys suggest a positive improvement in enhancing wellbeing, but the number of participants that took part was small, which only allowed limited analysis. In terms of enhancing wellbeing, participants mentioned feeling more relaxed, useful, optimistic about the future, and able to make their mind up about things more easily than at the beginning of the intervention. 

Qualitative interviews with participants suggest Grow Cardiff’s approach to community gardening reduces social isolation and improves social connectedness. Results also suggest that those who took part increased physical activity and fruit and veg intake.  


  • Starting at the right time is key – Innovate to Save’s timescales did not align well with the inherent seasonality of gardening work, meaning that Grow was testing through the winter when there was naturally less take-up for gardening work. 

How short is too short? For Grow, the pilot study took place over too short a period to attract large numbers of participants and to draw conclusive findings of the long-term health impacts and potential savings of this project.  

What’s next?

Since finishing the Research and Development phase of Innovate to Save, The Grow Well project has continued with further funding from the SW GP Cluster in Cardiff. 

They are now working on developing their monitoring and evaluation model and linking in with the Social Prescribing movement.