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Growing bonsai trees is a burgeoning new form of gardening therapy – with a long history of being good for your mental health. Part of small Japanese garden ideas for centuries, bonsai trees have provided solace to generations of Chinese and later Japanese gardeners. Because the art of bonsai is all about caring for the small trees, with intricate rules for pruning, wiring, and nurturing the tree, it is easy to see how growing them would be therapeutic. In fact, there is now growing evidence that tending to bonsai can be as good for you as other forms of nature therapy and art therapy.
Growing bonsai trees is good for us – the science
A 2018 medical study (opens in new tab) of elderly patients undergoing rehabilitation found that just looking at bonsai trees 'resulted in a significant increase in parasympathetic nervous activity', which is a way of saying that it reduced stress. The parasympathetic nervous system helps our bodies bounce back from stress, lowering the heart rate and blood pressure and improving digestion.
Another study (opens in new tab), also from 2018, delved deeply into the mental wellbeing of 255 bonsai artists, questioning them about their overall mood, quality of life, and even their perceptions about their spiritual growth. The overwhelming majority of participants said they had better mood, better quality of life, and a sense of spiritual fulfillment after tending to their bonsai trees.
Bonsai – a new form of therapy?
There are signs that growing bonsai trees may well be incorporated into the growing field of nature therapy or even art therapy, since the practice has components of both. For example, the UK-based Rutland Bonsai Therapy (opens in new tab) invites people suffering from a range of conditions, from anxiety to agoraphobia, to visit a bonsai garden as a form of therapeutic experience.
And a company selling bonsai trees, The Happy Shrub (opens in new tab), supply their trees with 'a book explaining the link between nature and the mind, in addition to studies supporting the idea that caring for bonsai can have a positive impact on mental health.'
The beauty of bonsai is that they can be grown as part of your indoor garden ideas, so you don't need a big garden. You can then take short breaks during the day to tend to your tree – or just look at it, they truly are beautiful.
Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.
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