stages of a seedling growing

July 8, 2021, by lqxag13

Winner of the 2nd Prize of the ENQUIRE Blog Post Competition 2021 – How Does Your Garden Grow? Inequality of Green Space Access: An Exploration by Elizabeth Cox

I have not always been a gardener, nor always held a deep-rooted enthusiasm for botanicals. Following the unexpected death of my parent, it was in a grief-ridden state as a mid-twenties Northerner in London that I spontaneously bought a cheese plant and, inadvertently, discovered the pleasure of plants. I soon learnt that there is a tenderness to plant life, and I took delight in observing the growth of each of the plants that I started to acquire, acknowledging that it was my responsibility to ensure they became the fullest Monstera Deliciosa or Ficus Lyrata their potential allowed. There was (and remains) a deep-rooted irony in this practice; I tend and nurture growing plant forms, taking immense joy in my mixed successes as a gardener, all the while continually learning how to exist in a universe without the person who ought to be tending and nurturing me, and watching wide-eyed as I grow; unbound in my own potential.

Thankfully, I am not alone in such plant-based therapies. The relationship between nature and well-being is long established, and garden-based activities are recognised as having a range of therapeutic benefit, helping to tackle a multitude of social concerns, and becoming a staple of social policy (Genter et al, 2015; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). Whether in formal settings, such as horticultural therapy programmes like Thrive, or in less formal local environments – including community garden programmes, parks, or allotments – green space initiatives can benefit a plethora of individuals.

This positive impact that nature can have has resulted in a surge of green space initiatives over the last decade, with social research observing and iterating the many benefits. Such spaces, for instance, are important to people’s social and cultural wellbeing. Community gardens, as Askins (2015) posits, provides “transformative politics of encounter” that can bring diverse groups of people together, especially in absence of public community engagement. Whilst working in partnership with others, for example, gardeners will often share personal histories; talking about their lives, trading stories, and exchanging gardening tips, all the while growing emotional connections to others within the gardening community, and the garden itself. Such behaviour encourages the facilitation of social integration and the formation of new social relations and social value, as well as intrinsic benefits such as improved feelings of confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, whilst reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and social isolation (Hale et al, 2011; Litt et al, 2015; Stuart, 2005). Working with vegetation can also promote food security, nutritional education, and the development of culinary skills; aptitudes that should not be underestimated, especially within deprived neighbourhoods or areas experiencing food poverty. Crucially, these important benefits can ultimately aid empowerment, capital, and positive social change (Cumbers at al, 2018; Hale et al, 2011; Pudup, 2008; Egli et al, 2008).

Encouragingly, many populations can benefit from such opportunities, including groups and individuals with mental health, physical and/or additional learning needs, as well as older populations, those facing long-term unemployment, and people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder from lived experiences such as bereavement, domestic violence, and military action (Sempik et al, 2005; Scartazza et al, 2020; Etherington, 2012).

There are however, significant, and important discrepancies in access to green spaces, with such differences dominating amongst those living in economically deprived districts. In fact, 37% of such groups are from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, compared to only 10% of White people (Friends of the Earth, 2020). Studies have found that BAME groups represent only 4.3% of green space horticultural projects, and what is more, they are not alone in this underrepresentation. Asylum seekers and refugees have also been found to have limited access to green enterprises, as well as there being a dearth of both women-only green space initiatives, and provisions for young people at risk of social exclusion (Sempik et al, 2005; Dyg et al, 2019).

It is within this gap that my PhD is rooted. More research is needed to understand such underrepresented group access to, and connection with, green spaces. It is clearly apparent that not all socio-cultural groups share the same relationship to the outdoors, nor have the opportunity to access available strategies and experience these important consequential benefits. For too long, the histories and experiences of nature in communities of marginalised groups have been devalued or omitted from environmental education and advocacy narrative (Rose & Paisley, 2012). By identifying how, when, and why different groups – especially those underrepresented – interact with nature, we can expand our understanding of community and diversity, actively including all backgrounds and cultures within the green space field of work. Without this insight, there is a definitive blind spot within the discourse and a Eurocentric perspective prevails. There is a need for green space research that acknowledges that there are multicultural selves which exist within the world, and as such, a need to represent this multitude of voices and perspectives.

Everybody deserves the opportunity to benefit from social initiatives regardless of the conditions in which they are born, circumstances they find themselves in, gender, nationality, or pigmentation of skin. It is now more than ever that we – those privileged to be situated at the helm of academic social justice research – must work to mitigate these inequalities, and undoubtably, work towards contributing to making positive social change, and help to improve lives.

Elizabeth Cox (PhD Student, York St John University)


Twitter: lzbthcx_

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Cumbers, A., Shaw, D., Crossan, J. & McMaster, R. (2016). The Work of Community Gardens: Reclaiming Place for Community in the City, Work, Employment & Society, 32 (1), 133 – 149.

Dyg, P. M., Christensen, S., & Peterson, C. (2019). Community gardens and wellbeing amongst vulnerable populations: a thematic review. Health Promotion International, 35, 790 – 803.

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Pudup, M.B., (2008). It takes a garden: Cultivating citizen-subjects in organized garden projects. Geoforum, 39(3), pp.1228-1240.

Rose J, & Paisley K. (2012). White privilege in experiential education: a critical reflection. Leisure Sciences, 34 (2), 136–54.

Scartazza, A., Mancini, M.L., Proietti, S., Moscatello, S., Mattioni, C., Costantini, F., Di Baccio, D., Villani, F. and Massacci, A., (2020). Caring local biodiversity in a healing garden: Therapeutic benefits in young subjects with autism. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 47, 126511.

Sempik, J., Aldridge, J. & Becker, S. (2005). Growing Together: A practice guide to promoting social inclusion through gardening and horticulture. Policy Press: Bristol.

Stuart, S. M. (2005). Lifting Spirits: Creating Gardens in California Domestic Violence Shelters. In P. F. Barlett (Ed.), Urban and industrial environments. Urban place: Reconnecting with the natural world (p. 61–88). Boston Review.

Posted in ENQUIRE Blog Post Competition 2021