Tending small indoor gardens may instill feelings of positivity, control and meaning in cancer patients, a new study suggests. The benefits of health nature-based activities are well-known; many programmes encourage cancer patients to tend gardens to improve psychological health. But gardens are not always accessible, particularly for cancer patients who are frail or disadvantaged.

Researchers led by Dr Ceri Phelps of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Wales tested a simpler, smaller approach – accessible, cheap, and not prone to whims of weather. Seven women from an existing breast cancer support group cultivated and customised their own indoor ‘garden bowls’ for three months. They started with a bowl, compost and three starter plants, which they took home and tended daily. The women reported on their feelings and findings in diary entries, collected within the research paper. “I think it doesn’t matter whether you’ve just been diagnosed or whether it’s been ten years down the road-it could be beneficial. The garden bowl could help you deal with whatever you have left behind,” said one of the patients while reflecting her bowl. The women felt that the process of tending the bowl and reflecting upon it led to feelings of positivity, control and meaning.

“The take-home message is that psychosocial interventions do not have to be complex, labour-intensive to deliver, or costly,” said Ceri Phelps of the University of Wales who led the study.