Harnessing nature to promote mental health is increasingly seen as a sustainable solution to healthcare across the industrialised world. The benefits of these approaches to well-being include reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and improved social functioning. Many studies assume that contact with nature is the main therapeutic component of these interventions yet 'green care' programmes typically include activities not based on 'nature' that may contribute to positive outcomes. This study explored the views of service users participating in a Therapeutic Horticultural programme on what factors promoted their engagement in the project, to identify variables other than 'nature' that may be responsible for successful engagement in these programmes. A secondary aim was to assess the significance 'nature' plays including, for example whether a prior interest in horticultural-related activities, such as gardening, is significant. Two focus groups were held with mental health service users (n = 15) attending a gardening project in south-east England. Findings revealed that the social element of the project was the key facilitator to engagement; the flexible structure of the gardening project was also significant and allowed service users to feel empowered. 'Nature' evoked a sense of calm and provided participants with a non-threatening space that was engaging.
Keywords: engagement; green care; mental health; social and therapeutic horticulture.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.