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Landscape and Urban Planning
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/landurbplan
Is gardening associated with greater happiness of urban residents? A multi-
activity, dynamic assessment in the Twin-Cities region, USA
, Kirti Das
, Yingling Fan
, Anu Ramaswami
Princeton University, Civil & Environmental Engineering, 41 Olden St., Princeton, NJ 08544, United States
University of Minnesota - Humphrey School of Public Aﬀairs, United States
Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Princeton University (c/o Anu Ramaswami), 41 Olden St., Princeton NJ 08544,
As cities seek to become more livable and environment-friendly, activities like bicycling, walking, and urban gardening (household and community-gardening) are
receiving much attention. However, few ﬁeld studies have measured well-being of urban gardening, particularly during household gardening. Our study develops
protocols to measure emotional well-being (EWB) reported during household gardening, comparing it with other leisure and day-to-day activities. We also explore
how gardening EWB varies across gardener type (vegetable vs ornamental), demographics, neighborhood type, and companionship during gardening. Using a
recently developed app-based Day Reconstruction Method, EWB was measured across 370 participants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Area, USA, wherein 118 (32%)
reported engaging in household gardening. Innovatively, ﬁve measures of EWB were computed for each participant for each activity type: average net aﬀect, average
happiness, average meaningfulness, the frequency of experiencing peak positive emotions (happiness and meaningfulness). Among all three average EWB measures,
gardening is among the top 5 out of 15 activities assessed, and, is not statistically diﬀerent from biking, walking and eating out. All four of these activities fall behind
other leisure/recreation activities, which ranks ﬁrst. For frequency of experiencing peak happiness, only other leisure/recreation activities were statistically higher
than all the remaining (14) activities. Average net aﬀect of gardening was signiﬁcantly higher for vegetable gardeners (vs ornamental), for low-income gardeners (vs
higher income) and for women. Companionship while gardening at home, race/ethnicity and urban versus suburban location showed no signiﬁcant diﬀerence.
Livability and equity considerations based on these EWB ﬁndings, and their impacts on urban food plans, are discussed.
We are currently living on an urban planet—wherein more than
50% of the world's population, (UN Desa, 2014) and more than 80% of
the world's GDP is generated in urban areas (Dobbs et al., 2011). Seven
key physical provisioning systems are essential to support people and
economies in cities, aﬀecting urban livelihoods and well-being. These
are: energy supply, transportation, buildings, municipal water supply,
food, sanitation/waste, and green/public space (Ramaswami, 2016).
However, these provisioning systems are now placing large demands on
planetary resources as they are associated with more than 86% of GHG
emissions and > 95% of water withdrawals, globally (Pachauri, 2014;
Ramaswami, 2016). Further, inadequate, poorly functioning and pol-
luting infrastructure provisioning has been shown to have signiﬁcant
impact on health outcomes, such as disease burden, and premature
mortality (Lim et al., 2012; IHME, 2018), with many of these premature
deaths occurring in highly populated urban areas. Many sustainable
development frameworks, including the United Nations’Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) highlight the interaction between these
provisioning systems, the environment, and, human health and well-
being. For example, SDG #2 addresses food, SDG #6 addresses water
and sanitation, SDG #11, sustainable cities and communities, SDG #13
addresses climate action, and SDG #3 addresses human health and
However, while much is known about the impact of urban infra-
structure and food systems on the environmental dimensions of the
SDGs (e.g., Hillman & Ramaswami, 2010; Boyer & Ramaswami, 2017)
and on health (Rydin et al., 2012; Wilson, 2011; and Lim et al., 2012),
relatively little is known about how infrastructure and food systems in
cities shape broader aspects of human well-being, with a particular
dearth of information regarding household gardening (Taylor & Lovell,
2014). As cities seek to enhance both livability and sustainability (e.g.,
Lowell et al., 2013), questions arise as to how to improve quality of life
through diﬀerent sectoral investments such as bicycle paths, parks, and
other urban amenities. However, there are few instruments to directly
measure human well-being in cities encompassing various activities and
sectors that people interact with at the urban scale. Our paper focuses
on developing an instrument that assesses subjective well-being in cities
Received 30 May 2019; Received in revised form 30 January 2020; Accepted 31 January 2020
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (G. Ambrose), firstname.lastname@example.org (K. Das), email@example.com (Y. Fan),
firstname.lastname@example.org (A. Ramaswami).
Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
0169-2046/ © 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
focusing on urban gardening activities, and comparing with other ac-
tivities in cities. Furthermore, we focus on emotional wellbeing (EWB)
given that it is sensitive to day-to-day variation in activities and in-
teractions with the built environment (Helliwell, 2012), wherein gar-
This introductory section provides an overview of diﬀerent well-
being measures, highlights the rationale for measuring EWB in cities,
and reviews various methods to measure EWB.
Over the past two decades, methods have advanced to directly
measure the subjective well-being (SWB) of individuals, where SWB is
deﬁned as judging one’s life positively and frequently experiencing
positive emotions (Diener, 1985; Diener, 2009; Tabor and Yull, 2018).
Standardized SWB surveys now explore two aspects of well-being,
cognitive (how people think) and emotional (how people feel), as il-
lustrated by surveys administered by the UK census since 2012 (Tabor
and Yull, 2018). Cognitive wellbeing is measures through scales such as
the Cantril Ladder of Life scale (Cantril, 1965) Diener’s Satisfaction
with Life scale (1985). Emotional wellbeing questions address both
positive and negative emotions (happy, meaningfulness, sad, tired
stress and pain), a standardized set of which have been used in the
National American Time Use Survey (National Research Council, 2012).
Some surveys also include questions to evaluate life purpose (mean-
ingfulness), which is shown to inﬂuence both cognitive and emotional
well-being (Helliwell, 2012).
While cognitive well-being questions are generally framed as a life
assessments having participants think “about their life as a
whole”(Helliwell, 2012), EWB when tracked through daily activities
(Zhu & Fan, 2018), shows how day-to-day interactions impact people at
the emotional level, aﬀecting positive emotions, such as happiness and
meaningfulness, as well as negative emotions, such as sadness, stress,
tiredness, and pain (National Research Council, 2012). Hence the focus
of this paper on EWB. Helliwell et al. argue the term ‘happiness’can
broadly be used for all aspects of SWB, although, by itself, it is an
emotion. In this paper, we refer to happiness as an emotion, in the
context of Emotional Well-Being (EWB).
National studies, such as the UK census and the ATUS, reveal broad
factors such as income and employment, age, demography (race) and
family structure that impact EWB (Kushlev, Dunn, & Lucas, 2015, Tabor
and Yull, 2018, Yamashita, Bardo, & Liu, 2018); others have revealed
that environmental factors, such as weather and pollution, also impact
EWB (Tabor and Yull, 2018). However, these surveys do not address
multiple built environment interactions within individual cities, and do
not speciﬁcally inform how urban food production, including commu-
nity gardening and household gardening, shape EWB.
Gardens are part of the concept of urban green infrastructure and
“nature in the city”, which includes trees, parks and urban farms.
Several studies have evaluated the broader role that nature in the city
plays in enhancing human health and well-being. Some studies have
focused on the health beneﬁts of green infrastructure (e.g. air pollution
reduction, heat island reduction, etc.) (Tzoulas, 2007; Lee &
Maheswaran, 2011). A recent review suggests that some of these direct
health beneﬁts may be small and/or highly uncertain (Keeler et al.,
2019), while broader personal and community/social well-being ben-
eﬁts may be more signiﬁcant and should be further studied (Petrovic,
Simpson, Orlove, & Dowd-Uribe, 2019). Other studies, using qualitative
methods, suggest beneﬁts such as psychological beneﬁts and social
cohesion, through being more connected to nature and their community
(Kim & Kaplan, 2004; Shanahan et al., 2017).
In the context of gardening, there have been many studies of com-
munity gardens and their impacts on social cohesion, but these studies
do not directly measure EWB and are focused on community gardens
(Alaimo, 2016; Litt, 2015; Soga, 2017). A few studies have directly
measure emotions during gardening activities. MacKerron and Mourato
(2013) tracks the single emotion of happiness when people interact
with various nature-based activities nationwide in the UK (both urban
and rural), including gardening, using the Experience Sampling
Method, which randomly sampled participants twice a day. Bakolis
et al. (2018) likewise track various aspect of mental wellbeing (e.g.,
optimism, energy, relaxation, closeness to other people) as people in-
teract with nature, both urban and rural, in the UK. These studies do not
cover the range of emotions (positive and negative) that have been used
in composite EWB measures. More recently, researchers have also
started to analyze Twitter posts to assess sentiments (Plunz, 2019)in
urban green spaces.
These emerging studies, while showing the beneﬁts of nature in the
city, do not address the range of emotions tracked in national EWB
studies, and, also do not oﬀer a comparison with other urban activities
that may also oﬀer opportunities for leisure and relaxation.
Indeed, other activities in cities, including biking and walking, have
been shown to improve EWB (Collier, 2018; Wolf, 2013; Lovell, 2014;
Golden, 2013; Zhu & Fan, 2018; Fan, Brown, Das, & Wolfson, 2019). As
cities consider investments in various infrastructures to enhance urban
livability and quality of life, they are considering programs that support
household gardening (Sickler, 2018), community gardening (Golden,
2013), and active-living infrastructures such as bicycle paths (Fishman,
2016), all of which can enhance quality of life and reduce environ-
mental impacts. However, to-date, the impact of gardening on EWB has
not been measured in comparison to other activities that have known
positive impacts on EWB, e.g., bicycling, walking (Zhu & Fan, 2018,
Pressman et al., 2009; Brajša-Žganec, 2011; Wei, 2015).
This paper seeks to develop a methodology to directly measure EWB
of individuals while engaging in gardening activities, and compare it in
the context of other human-infrastructure interactions and daily ac-
tivities. Speciﬁcally, we study household gardening, which has been
relatively under-studied, comparing it to other activities (e.g., walking,
biking, eating out and other leisure/recreational activities), as well as
diﬀerent types of gardening within the category of household gardening
(i.e., vegetable versus ornamental gardening, done alone or otherwise),
and in diﬀerent urban settings (urban vs suburban).
Speciﬁcally, this study has three research objectives: (1) under-
standing human engagement (time spent per week and frequency) with
gardening, in the context of time spent on other activities, (2) mea-
suring EWB during household gardening and compare with other ac-
tivities, and (3) focusing only on household gardening, exploring how
the EWB of participants engaged in gardening varies across gardener
type, income, neighborhood type, and companionship during the gar-
While the pilot project reported here focuses on household gar-
dening, future work seeks to compare the EWB of household gardening
with community gardening in order to oﬀer future policy insight on the
well-being beneﬁts of urban gardening as a public or private good.
2.1. Background on EWB Measurements
EWB instruments can be split into two categories: (1) Time-Oriented
Techniques and (2) Event-Oriented Techniques (Kahneman, Krueger,
Schkade, Schwarz & Stone, 2004). In Time-Oriented Techniques, such
as pager-based experience sampling methods, participants report EWB
measures at a prescribed or randomly sampled points in time (Krueger,
2014). In Event-Oriented Techniques, such as diary-based Day Re-
construction Methods, participants report EWB measures systematically
linked to the participant’s daily activities (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006).
Literature has shown that time-based techniques have the advantage of
extracting EWB information in real time without recall bias; event-or-
iented techniques have the advantage of capturing sequential and more
complete EWB information throughout the day without activity sam-
pling bias. Research comparing the time- and event-oriented techniques
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
has shown event-oriented techniques, which utilize the Day Re-
construction Method (DRM), to be accurate and reliable (Hektner et al.,
2007; Kahneman et al., 2004); moreover, it enables comparing gar-
dening with other events/activites, which is the purpose of this paper.
The DRM ﬁrst asks participants to reconstruct their previous day’s
events in a diary. Then for each of the events, participants are prompted
with questions about the speciﬁc situation of the event and their
emotions during the event (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006). The method
has been shown to oﬀer reliable results, less burden on the participant,
and a continuous log of the participants’events. We use the DRM, op-
erationalizing it through a phone application called Daynamica
Wolfson, & Adomavicius, 2017; Fan et al., 2019).
The DRM measures ‘remembered utility,’which reﬂects a partici-
pant’s measure of the experience retrospectively (Kahneman,
Fredrickson, Schreiber, & Redelmeier, 1993). Measurements used to
express remembered utility, such as net aﬀect, report a single EWB
measurement for a collective event, in hopes participants are summing
momentary utilities over the whole experience. Net aﬀect is a common
measure of subjective well-being in psychology literature and re-
presents the mean of a participant’s positive emotion scores during an
event, minus the mean of a participant’s negative emotional scores for
the same event (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006). A positive net aﬀect score
indicates the positive emotions outweigh the negative emotions for the
‘Remembered utility’is heavily inﬂuenced by peak positive and
negative emotions, no matter their relative duration, compared to the
total duration of the activity (Kahneman et al., 1993), therefore in this
paper we also develop a new metric to assess ‘peak happiness”, in terms
of frequency of experiencing high levels of that emotion. Frequency of
‘peak happiness’expresses events where participants report extreme
positive emotion, since ‘remembered utility’is weighted to the peaks
and valleys of emotions. Literature suggests that people might re-
member negative emotions more than positive emotions; hence, some
researchers have constructed an unpleasantness index called the U-
index (Kahneman & Krueger, 2006). In this paper we focus on average
net aﬀect, average individual positive emotions, and the frequency of
experienced peak happiness emotion as measures of EWB.
2.2. Survey design and implementation in smart phone
The data for this study comes from a larger the Neighborhood
Environment, Daily Activity and Well-Being Study conducted by the
authors in the Minneapolis Metro area over a period of a year, from
October 17, 2016 to October 25, 2017. While the larger study focused
on the broad features of the built environment (Fan et al., 2018), this
paper reports EWB associated with gardening in the context of other
Overall, the study recruited 404 participants to respond to an entry
survey, a 7-day Day Reconstruction Method based diary tracked using
the cell phone App Daynamica, and an exit survey that queried them if
they engaged in any gardening during the past week. The percentages
surveyed by the season over the study period were: 27% during the
spring, 33% during the summer, 25% in the fall and 15% in the winter.
Of the 404 recruited participants, 370 completed all parts of the study,
which serves as the sample size in the analysis reported on this paper.
Survey participants were recruited from six pre-selected neighbor-
hoods, including four urban and two suburban, so as to cover a range of
land use distribution, open space, housing type, community services,
access to amenities, etc. seen across the city. Variation in income levels
was also sought, hence, the urban setting consisted of two low-income
and two medium-income neighborhoods, while the suburban setting
consisted of one low-income and one-medium-income neighborhood.
Among the 2443 census blocks associated with the six selected
neighborhoods, 921 were randomly selected to recruit the participants
to the survey. Across these 921 census blocks, the ACS 2017 ﬁve-year
estimates identify a population of 44,573 and an average household
size of 2.90 persons. All homes in the randomly selected blocks were
post carded with a brief study description and contact information for
the research group. Interested participants then contacted the research
group by phone or email, at which point, they received a more in-depth
description of the project. If they were still interested in participating,
the research team set up an appointment to meet with the participant.
This study used a three-phase interaction approach with partici-
pants. In the ﬁrst phase, participants met with a member of the research
team where an introductory survey was administered to obtain key
demographic information. In the second phase, a phone with an ap-
plication-based Day Reconstruction Method (Daynamica
) was ad-
ministered to the participant to collect dynamic, EWB data linked to the
participant’s daily activities.
(Fan et al., 2017; Fan et al., 2019) detects activities
and trips in real time to construct sequenced activity/trip episodes
throughout the day. It also allows the user to annotate the detected
activities/trips with additional information such as emotional experi-
ences during each activity/trip at their convenience. For each activity,
participants are asked to rank (on a seven-point scale) six emotions
(Happy, Pain, Sad, Tired, Stressed, and Meaningful). The Daynamica
app was preloaded to a phone owned by the research team, which was
supplied to the participant for the 7-day period.
In the third phase, an exit survey was administered by a member of
the research team after one week. This survey was used as a check of
completion and understanding with the application-based Day
Reconstruction Method. During the exit interview, participants were
asked “Did you grow some of your own food at your home or at a
community garden?”This question was used to determine if partici-
pants who cited an activity in their log as including gardening were
‘Ornamental Gardeners (having logged time gardening but having not
produced their own food) or Vegetable Gardeners (having logged time
gardening and produced their own food). Recruitment was conducted
in a manner that gave no predisposition to the research team’s interest
in gardening activities. This was done to maintain unbiased EWB re-
Additionally, geo-location provided via the Daynamica
tion was used to determine the location of the gardening activity, thus
denoting gardeners as household gardeners rather than gardeners who
gardened away from their households as would be the case for com-
munity gardens. The overall methodology used in this study comes
from previous work establishing EWB of transportation systems (Fan
et al., 2019); here we use the same methodology to focus on the EWB of
For each the participants, data were collected over the course of a
week. With the smartphone-enhanced Day Reconstruction Method, the
research team calculated three types of EWB measures: average net
aﬀect scores, average positive emotion scores, and frequency of ex-
perienced peak emotion.
•Average Net Aﬀect was calculated as outlined by Krueger et al.
(2014) for each activity over one week. The mean of four individual,
negative emotions measurements (tired, stress, sad, and pain) was
subtracted from the mean of two individual positive emotions
(happy and meaningful). For each individual event that a partici-
pant logs, a net aﬀect score is calculated. From these data, an in-
dividual’s average net aﬀect score can be computed for each activity
(e.g., biking, gardening, etc.) for each participant. . The survey po-
pulation statistics for average net aﬀect are then developed for
gardening versus other activities.
•Average Positive Emotion (Happiness & Meaningfulness): Because
gardening is an activity often associated with positive dynamic
emotions in literature, we calculate both happiness and mean-
ingfulness scores separately for each activity an individual engages
in over the one week period. Individual average happiness scores
and individual average meaningfulness scores can be assessed for
each activity type (e.g., gardening, biking, working), from which
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
survey population statistics are developed.
•Frequency of Experienced Peak Emotion during Gardening versus
other activities: Over a period of one week, we also wanted to un-
derstand which activities (gardening versus other activities) can
contribute to a high level of positive emotions for each individual.
Therefore, for each participant, a 90th percentile score for ‘happi-
ness’and ‘meaningfulness’(henceforth this 90th percentile
threshold will be referred to as a participant’s‘peak happiness
threshold’or ‘peak meaningfulness threshold’) was calculated across
all the participant’s events. For each participant and for each ac-
tivity type (i.e. gardening, biking, working, etc.), we then assessed
the frequency an activity type’s‘happiness’and ‘meaningfulness’
scores for individual events exceeded the participant’s peak happi-
ness and peak meaningfulness threshold reported over the one week
Average scores for net aﬀect, average positive emotion and fre-
quency of experiencing peak emotion was calculated across activities
and attribute categories. These averages were then analyzed for dif-
ference using ANOVA tests and a post-hoc Tukey HSDs to calculate the
p-value and 95% conﬁdence intervals. In addition, a multivariable re-
gression was performed on ‘net aﬀect’during gardening to strengthen
results established through the ANOVA testing.
We organize our results into four categories. First, we oﬀer a de-
mographic description of the study sample. Second, we present the
engagement of participants in household gardening in the context of
other activities. Third, ﬁve EWB measures (average net aﬀect, average
happiness, average meaningfulness, frequency of experiencing peak
happiness, and frequency of experiencing peak meaningfulness) are
reported for household gardening and are compared to reported EWB
and frequency of peak happiness experienced during other activities.
Last, the average net aﬀect of household gardening is compared across
the attributes of the gardener (by gender, income, urban-suburban lo-
cation) and the type of gardening (ornamental vs vegetable gardening).
3.1. Study sample and demographics
Of the 370 survey participants, 126 (34.1%) were male and 244
(65.9%) were female. Seventy-three respondents (19.7%) self-reported
as ‘low-income’($24,999 or less household income in 2017 before
taxes), 130 (35.1%) self-reported as ‘medium-income’$25,000-
$74,999) and 167 (45.1%) self-reported as ‘high-income’($75,000 or
greater). In addition, 266 (71.8%) lived in urban neighborhoods, based
on census classiﬁcation.
Of the 118 (31.4%) who logged gardening, 73 participants (19.7%)
self-identiﬁed as vegetable gardeners and 45 (12.2%) were determined
to be ornamental gardeners. Of the 118 gardeners only one gardening
event was logged at a geo-location away from a participant’s home geo-
location. This event was removed from the sample so results could re-
ﬂect ‘household gardening’.Table 1
3.1.1. Human engagement with gardening in the context of other sectors
Table 2 expresses participant engagement in gardening in the con-
text of other activities. Of the 168 h in a week, a vast majority (111.2 h,
66.2% of time spent over a week) is spent at home, which may include
various sub-activities, such as sleeping, cooking or watch television,
gardening, and others. The remaining 57 h (on average) per week are
dominated by work (23.84 h, 41.9% of the remaining time), leisure/
recreation (12.25 h, 21.5% of the remaining time) and then various
modes of travel (23.84 h, 41.9% of the remaining time).
Each time the respondent changed location (tracked by the GPS),
they were asked if the activity included sub-activities (multiple choice),
such as gardening, volunteering, religious activity, etc. When the home-
location included the sub-activity of gardening, it was identiﬁed as a
household gardening activity.
Since household gardening was identiﬁed as a sub-label within an
activity category (such as ‘at home’or ‘leisure/recreation’), we could
not be certain how accurately respondents reported their time spent
gardening at home. Therefore, we used the American Time Use Survey’s
(ATUS) as a reference, yielding an ATUS average of 1.53 h per week
gardening, with 4.25 h per week representing a two standard deviations
high-gardening time spent threshold. We then applied the 4.25 h as a
cut-oﬀto our study responses, excluding unusually high gardening
times as survey error, and found our study average time for gardening
per respondent was 1.45 h per week gardening. This result from our
survey is reported in Table 2, and is similar to the American Time Use
Survey’s (ATUS) estimate of 1.53 h per week (calculated from the
2003–2016 Multi-Year American Time Use Survey database). When
calculating an imputed average time spent per week gardening (the 164
gardening events with a duration greater than 4.25 h being imputed
with the ATUS average of 1.53), the study’s average time spent gar-
dening per week is calculated as 1.52 h per week.
3.1.2. Key results in Table 2 and Table 3 are as follows:
•Of 370 people surveyed, 31% participate in gardening activities.
•Relatively few hours per week are spent gardening, at ~ 1.45 to
1.53 h per week on average, which is comparable to other leisure
activities such as walking (1.64 h/wk) and eating out (2.30 h/
•For Ornamental Gardeners and Vegetable Gardeners, Table 3 shows
similar levels of engagement with gardening, between 2 and 3 times
per week, and do not prove to be signiﬁcantly diﬀerent.
3.1.3. Well-being measurements of gardening in the context of other sectors
Fig. 1 shows the ﬁve diﬀerent EWB measures for gardening in the
context of other activities. Average net aﬀect as well as the average
individual emotions of ‘happiness’and ‘meaningfulness’are shown both
as a mean (on the left side) for the speciﬁc activity of gardening across
all participants. Also shown on the right panel, are the frequency of
experiencing peak happiness and the frequency of experiencing peak
meaningfulness for each identiﬁed activity averaged across all partici-
It is noteworthy that gardening is consistently among the top ﬁve
Demographic Comparison between Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area and Survey
Metro Variable Sample
51% Gender 66%
60% Living with Spouse/partner 60%
37 Age (median) 50
63% Employed Full Time 43%
19% Disabled 20%
47% Children Under 18 Present 31%
81% White 77%
6% Asian 4%
8% Black 11%
1% American Indian 2%
3% Multiple 5%
5% LESS THAN $10,000 7%
11% $10,000 TO $24,999 10%
20% $25,000 TO $49,999 16%
18% $50,000 TO $74,999 19%
14% $75,000 TO $99,999 17%
25% $100,000 OR MORE 27%
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
activities associated with high average net aﬀect, average happiness,
and average meaningfulness scores as well as the frequency in experi-
encing peak meaningfulness. All ﬁgures show which activities are sig-
niﬁcantly diﬀerent from gardening. Conﬁdence intervals are absent
from gardening, since all conﬁdence intervals express signiﬁcant dif-
ference from gardening as the reference group. For example, in Fig. 1,a
net aﬀect during shopping is signiﬁcantly diﬀerent from gardening, but
one cannot say there is signiﬁcant diﬀerence between shopping and
riding the bus.
Among all three average measures of emotions (net aﬀect, happi-
ness, meaningfulness), gardening is among the top 5 out of 15 activities
assessed, and, is not statistically diﬀerent from biking, walking and
eating out. These three average metrics indicate gardening to be on par
with eating out, walking and biking. Nominally, gardening is ranked
4th for average net aﬀect and average happiness (focusing on that
single emotion), while ranked 2nd in average meaningfulness. These
results suggest that while other (unidentiﬁed) leisure activities are
highly ranked, gardening soon follows in the top category. Gardening
may have a particular role in being meaningful, and should be eval-
uated in further studies.
In contrast, the frequency of experiencing ‘peak happiness’(1C)
shows that only the top-ranked activity (leisure/recreation) is sig-
niﬁcantly diﬀerent from gardening. For the frequency of experiencing
‘peak meaningfulness’(1E), education nominally emerges second after
other leisure/recreation, while gardening ranks 4th. However, none if
these activities are statistically diﬀerent from gardening. The only ac-
tivities signiﬁcantly diﬀerent from gardening are at the extreme bottom
of the ranked activities (i.e. travel by car, shopping, travel by rail).
The shifting in ranks of the various activities oﬀers nuance about
their role in shaping EWB in urban areas, and could be further explored
in future studies.
3.1.4. The features of gardening and gardeners as they are associated with
Fig. 2 explores the demographic attributes inﬂuencing average net
aﬀect scores while gardening, and compares them with the top ﬁve
activities by net aﬀect, as identiﬁed by Fig. 2A(i.e. gardening, leisure/
recreation, eating out, biking and walking). The socio-demographic
variables depicted in Fig. 2 are: gardener type (vegetable vs orna-
mental), gender, income and race, as well as urban vs suburban loca-
tion, and companionship during gardening. We also conduct a multi-
variable regression focused solely on net aﬀect during gardening
(shown later in Table 4).
For Fig. 3A, 3B, 3D and 3F, ANOVAs tests and post-hoc Tukey HSDs
were used to calculate the p-value and 95% conﬁdence intervals; thus,
conﬁdence intervals are absent from the reference group in each ac-
tivity grouping (i.e. Vegetable Gardener in 3A, Low-income in 3B, By
One’s Self in 3D, and White in 3F). In addition, signiﬁcance is only
shown in comparison to the reference group and does not express sig-
niﬁcant diﬀerence between the second, third, fourth, and/or ﬁfth bars.
For example, in Fig. 2A, the average net aﬀect score for ‘vegetable
gardeners’is signiﬁcantly diﬀerent than ‘non-gardeners’while walking.
One cannot say, from Fig. 2A, there is signiﬁcant diﬀerence between the
average net aﬀect score of ‘ornamental gardeners’and ‘non-gardeners’.
In contrast, t-tests were used, since only two factors were compared, to
calculate the p-value and 95% conﬁdence intervals for Fig. 2C and 3E,
for race and gender, respectively.
3.1.5. Key take-away from Fig. 2.
Focusing only on net aﬀect associated with gardening, Fig. 2 overall
shows average net aﬀect experienced during gardening diﬀers sig-
niﬁcantly by gardening type (Fig. 2A vegetable vs ornamental), income
level (Fig. 2B), and gender (Fig. 2C). Other factors such as compa-
nionship during gardening (2D), urban vs suburban location (2E) and
race (2F) did not have a signiﬁcant impact on average net aﬀect ex-
perienced during gardening.
Fig. 2A (gardener type) shows vegetable gardeners have sig-
niﬁcantly greater average net aﬀect during gardening compared to
ornamental gardeners. Vegetable gardeners appear to also generally
have signiﬁcantly higher average net aﬀect for all ﬁve activities
Engagement in Various Activities across all 370 study Participants detailing A: Percentage of Participants Engaged in Individual Activates, B: Average Frequency
of Engagement in Event over the Week, C: Time Spent Per Event, D: Population Weighted Average of Duration of Event (calculated as a product of A, B, and C).
A) Percent of Participants Engaged in
Individual Activities (%)
B) Average Frequency of Engagement in the
Activity over the Week (count/wk)
C) Time Spent on
Activity Per Week (Hr)
D) Population Weighted Average of
Duration of Event (Hr)
Bike 18.6 1.46 0.50 0.25
Bus 21.6 1.36 0.53 0.30
Car 94.3 21.26 7.66 0.28
Eating Out 71.1 1.99 2.30 0.86
Education 30.3 0.99 2.99 2.25
GARDENING AT HOME 30.5 0.89 1.45 –
Leisure/Recreation* 86.2 5.35 12.25 1.70
Rail 11.4 0.44 0.21 0.36
Shop 85.4 4.54 3.14 0.51
Waiting 37.0 0.82 0.10 0.09
Walk 84.9 8.76 1.64 0.14
Work 66.2 4.75 23.84 3.70
n = 370 participants; *May occur at home or away from the home
Time Spent and Durations for Gardening are reported from the American Time Use Survey NOTE:
total hours in a week are 168 of which about 111 h are spent at home and are not reported as speciﬁc activities.
Engagement in Gardening across Gardener Type detailing A: Number of Participants, B: Average Frequency of Engagement in Event over the Week.
A) Number of Participants B) Average Frequency of Engagement in the Activity over the Week
Ornamental Gardeners 45 2.40
Vegetable Gardeners 73 3.05
Survey Responds Across All Participants (gardeners and non-gardens from
Signiﬁcance denoted between Ornamental and Vegetable Gardeners:*:p-value < 0.05; **:p-value < 0.01; ***: p-value < 0.001.
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
Fig. 1. Emotional well-being measures of gardening in the context of other sectors and activities.
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
compared to non-gardeners, and signiﬁcantly higher scores than orna-
mental gardeners for three speciﬁc activities: gardening, bike and lei-
sure/recreation. These results suggest vegetable gardeners may be a
sub-population experiencing higher net aﬀect over a range of activities.
Focusing on income, Fig. 2B shows low-income survey respondents
reported signiﬁcantly higher average net aﬀect compared to medium
and high-income respondents. Likewise, gardening is the only activity
in the top ﬁve activities where female participants have signiﬁcantly
higher average net aﬀect scores than male participants (Fig. 2C). Gar-
dening thus seems to be diﬀerent from the other activities, such as
leisure/recreation, biking, walking and eating out, as it is associated
with a signiﬁcant and positive response for women and lower income
Companionship during gardening (“with whom”), suburban or
urban location, and race (Figures 3D, 3E, 3F) do not show a signiﬁcant
impact on a participant’s net aﬀect while participating in gardening
events. It is notable that companionship while gardening is not sig-
niﬁcant since existing literature touts gardening, particularly gardening
at community gardens, as important due to its social and communal
connections for gardeners. However, our results show that net aﬀect
scores of household gardeners not signiﬁcantly impacted by compa-
In addition, for all activities other than gardening, participating in
the activity with ‘one’s spouse’showed a signiﬁcantly higher average
net aﬀect score when compared to participating in the activity ‘by
oneself.’Across all activities for the attributes ‘suburban or urban’and
‘race’,diﬀerences in average net aﬀect scores prove to be either insig-
niﬁcant or inconsistent.
Table 4 presents a multi-variable OLS regression that explores the
association of various sociodemographic variables and average net af-
fect reported during gardening. The results, consistent with Fig. 2, show
that income, type of gardening (vegetable vs ornamental) and gender
are key signiﬁcant variables associated with EWB during household
gardening. Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)(1985) scores for
each participant were used as a proxy to account for potential general
EWB variations across participants.
4.1. Urban planning and policy context
Urban gardening, whether household or community gardening, in-
tersects with three urban planning and policy agendas. First, gardening
is one of many activities, such as biking and walking, that can con-
tribute to enhancing EWB in urban areas, which is a measure of quality
of life. Enhancing quality of life of residents, while promoting en-
vironmental sustainability, is a goal of several cities’livable and sus-
tainability plans (e.g., Melbourne, Australia; Lowe et al. (2013)), in-
cluding for the City of Minneapolis, where this study was conducted.
While there are numerous indicators of quality of life (e.g., the Mercer
Index, Economic Intelligence Unit; Korpela et al., 2016), they do not
address the diversity of activities in urban areas. New protocols, such as
those developed in this paper, directly measure well-being of urban
residents, in the context of multiple activities, can oﬀer new ways of
informing which activities and sectors shape quality of life for which
demographic groups in cities.
Fig. 2. Net aﬀect measurements of gardening, and other top activities, across gardener types and attributes.
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
A second urban planning agenda more speciﬁcally focuses on urban
agriculture, wherein, more than 187 cities worldwide have signed on to
the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFP, 2015). Increasing the amount
of urban agriculture is listed as one among several key strategies that
can contribute to food security, livelihoods and livability in urban
areas. While many studies have assessed the impacts of community
gardens on these factors, very few have assessed the beneﬁts of
household gardens in the global north (Taylor & Lovell, 2014).
Last, and more broadly, the promotion of local food production is
considered to be more environmentally sustainable although the sci-
ence is not yet conclusive (Santo, Palmer, & Kim, 2016). Several cities
are also including greenhouse gas emissions associated with food pro-
duction in their city scale carbon footprint accounts, and often pro-
moting local agriculture as a means to reduce its carbon footprint
(Ramaswami, Hillman, Janson, Reiner, & Thomas, 2008; Goldstein,
2017). Thus a better understanding of urban agriculture is consistent
with SDG #11, sustainable cities and communities.
4.2. Signiﬁcant of the study results
Despite an increased interest in policy and research on urban gar-
dening, few studies have explored the EWB impacts of household gar-
dening, nor compared gardening in the contexts of other activities. This
paper pilots a new method for better quantitative understanding of
EWB associated with gardening, exploring ﬁve measures of EWB across
a range or urban activities important to shaping livability. The results of
this paper yield four main takeaways, which are discussed below.
4.2.1. Household gardening is associated with high-EWB, similar to biking
This study makes a signiﬁcant contribution to the literature by
ﬁnding, among 15 diverse urban activities, gardening is ranked near the
top for three diﬀerent measure of EWB including, average net aﬀect,
average happiness and average meaningfulness. Nominally, gardening
ranks –fourth for average net aﬀect and average happiness; it ranks
behind other ‘leisure/recreation’for these two measures, and is not
statistically diﬀerent from biking, walking and eating out. For mean-
ingfulness, gardening ranks second behind events participants denoted
as ‘leisure/recreation’, but is not statistically diﬀerent from either lei-
sure/recreation, biking, walking, or eating out. However, in the context
of frequency of experiencing peak happiness, only leisure/recreation
stood out from the other (14) activities; therefore, gardening may not
oﬀer the frequency of experiencing peak happiness to the extent that
events participants denote as ‘leisure and recreation’do. In whole, the
results of this study suggest gardening is not diﬀerent (statistically)
from other activities recognized to oﬀer high EWB, such as bicycling
and walking. However, the percentage of people engaged in gardening
in our survey sample (30%) is higher than those biking (18%). Yet,
bicycling programs have received far more attention from urban plan-
ners. This study thus suggests that cities consider investments sup-
porting household gardening as they consider other ways to enhance
4.2.2. Vegetable gardening vs ornamental gardening
In addition to gardening’s EWB measures in the context of other
activities, the study also elucidated the impacts of gardener types and
gardener attributes on gardening’s net aﬀect scores. First, vegetable
gardeners, on average, had a 0.75 higher net aﬀect score while gar-
dening (calculated from six emotions on a seven-point scale) compared
to ornamental gardeners. The connection between gardening and mean
meaningfulness, as a proxy of life purpose, might explain the net aﬀect
diﬀerences between vegetable and ornamental gardeners while gar-
dening. The additional importance of producing food or maintaining a
connection to a larger identity, such as the identity linked to producing
one’s own food, may play a role in the higher EWB scores for vegetable
gardeners (Collier, 2018; Petrovic et al., 2018). With these results in
mind, promoting interventions focused on vegetable gardening, rather
than gardening more broadly, could oﬀers the greatest opportunity for
4.2.3. The equity implications of household gardening
It is also interesting that, in this study, for all activities (leisure/
recreation, eating out, walking and biking) other than gardening, low-
income and female participants report average net aﬀect scores that are
signiﬁcantly lower than both medium-income, high-income and male
participants, respectively (Fig. 2B&C). This demonstrates gardening is
an outlier activity in the sense that being low-income and female does
not appear to lower one’s net aﬀect scores while engaging in gardening,
as is the case with other activities.
Our results show low-income gardeners having 0.667 higher net
aﬀect scores than medium-income gardeners and 1.251 higher net af-
fect scores than high-income gardeners. In addition, female gardeners
report, on average, 0.394 higher net aﬀect scores than their male
counterparts. These results raise interesting equity questions on which
activities to invest for creating more livable and equitable cities, be-
cause our ﬁndings indicate that household gardening was the only ac-
tivity that disproportionally beneﬁted women and low-income partici-
pants. Indeed, a pilot backyard gardening intervention in Pittsburgh
found qualitative, self-reported improvement in wellness, eating habits
and access to fresh produce for low-income residents participating in a
household gardening program (Sickler, 2018). Both our study and the
study in Pittsburgh are among the few that address household gar-
dening, since most of the previous studies in the US have focused on the
multiple beneﬁts of community gardening
Multiple Regression for Net Aﬀect while Gardening.
n = 118; Multiple R-squared: 0.3436; Adjusted R-squared: 0.3077
Ornamental Gardeners −0.7560 0.0009***
Low (< 50 k)
Middle (50 k-100 k) −0.6670 0.0406*
High (greater than100 k) −1.2507 0.0004***
Spouse 0.0675 0.5715
Friends and Acquaintances −0.0840 0.6253
One’s Children −0.1392 0.4359
Urban −0.1625 0.4631
Hispanic 0.6209 0.1739
Asian/Asian-American 0.3955 0.6604
Black/African-American −0.1885 0.7568
Native American 0.0008 0.9996
Multiple 0.0779 0.1082
Less than Bachelors
Bachelors −0.0779 0.7911
Greater than Bachelors −0.2002 0.4964
Female 0.3939 0.0371*
Age (continuous; 19–87) 0.0126 0.0398*
SWLS Score (continuous; 5–35) 0.1472 0.0000***
*:p-value < 0.05; **:p-value < 0.01; ***: p-value < 0.001 NOTE: Attributes
are discrete: estimate values are relative to the ﬁrst attribute in the group.
Values are ‘continuous’as marked.
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
4.2.4. EWB while gardening at home alone is no diﬀerent from with
company; implications for community gardening
Lastly, our results (Fig. 2D) found that there was no signiﬁcant
diﬀerent in net aﬀect between participating in a gardening event by
one’s self and participating with a companion. This suggests household
gardening may be diﬀerent from community gardening, which has been
touted as an integral social settings for cross-cultural and generational
interactions (Armstrong, 2000; Beckie & Bogdan, 2010), as well as a
keystone for community building activities and organization (Teig,
2009; Holland, 2004). This sense of agency and social connectivity
during community gardening has been shown to improve self-reported
mental health when comparing community gardeners to non-gardeners
in urban settings (Teig, 2009, Litt, 2015). However, other literatures
conﬁrm that nature-based experiences do not need companionship to
yield EWB beneﬁts (Korpela, 2014). Thus, our study interestingly shows
that high EWB, commensurate with EWB levels associated with biking
and walking, can be achieved at home while gardening alone.
4.3. Our results in the context of other studies
Prior studies of leisure activities’impact on EWB have found “do-it-
yourself”activities, such as urban gardening, are associated with
greater EWB outcomes due to the participants association with ac-
complishment, identity, and social connectivity rather than a speciﬁc
‘positive mood’in the moment (Collier, 2018; Wolf, 2013). “Do-it-
yourself,”here, refers to the cultural movement of creating products at
home or ‘from scratch,’rather than ‘doing it by yourself’(i.e. without
companionship). These studies emphasized the ‘life purpose’aspect of
gardening and show the dynamic, aﬀective emotions linked to gar-
dening are low compared to other leisure activities like baking, pho-
tography and painting (Collier, 2018). The insights from prior studies
are consistent with our results, since gardening ranks in the top two for
This study is the ﬁrst attempt, to our knowledge, to evaluate EWB
associated with urban household gardening in the global north.
However, we acknowledge urban gardening may also have health dis-
beneﬁts depending on the environmental context, e.g. lead in may
urban soils in the US where gardening is not advised (EPA, 2020) and in
the developing world, where soil and water contamination by fecal
coliforms can be wide spread (Miller-Robbie and Ramaswami, 2017). In
these situations the health concerns might outweigh any EWB beneﬁts
of urban gardening.
While this is a pilot study which has made key contributions, there
are some limitations. First, because this was a pilot study limited to six
neighborhoods in the Twin-Cities, the results cannot be generalized.
Second, while the team made all eﬀorts possible to avoid any sort of
selection bias, because the potential respondents were asked to contact
the study team via phone and email, those who do not have access to or
are uncomfortable with using these means to communicate may be
excluded from the study. There may also be bias based on peoples’le-
vels of comfort using smartphones provided for the study. Third, since
is an app-based Day Reconstruction Method, we re-
cognize the data collected represents recalled EWB data (remembered
utility). While time-based methods (i.e. contacting the respondent one
or two times per day) may oﬀer a reduction in recall bias, it will not
track the varied activities we are comparing in this paper (e.g. house-
hold gardening, with other leisure and day-to-day activities), which will
require signiﬁcantly more record keeping by the participant which di-
minishes participant retention. Finally, gardening was not one of the
primary activity categories collected by the Daynamica
app but ra-
ther was a sub-category.
4.5. Future works
Future work can advance the methodology as well as the focus of
study. First, in terms of the method, the Daynamica
app could in-
tegrate gardening more speciﬁcally as a primary activity similar to
biking or walking.
Second, our results should be repeated with community gardeners,
exploring how it diﬀers both qualitatively and quantitatively from
household gardening. Quantitative comparisons can address both the
fraction of urban residents who engage in community gardens, as well
as the association with EWB. Such studies can help in the design of city
supported gardening interventions, helping understand if greater
quality of life beneﬁts to more people are oﬀered through household or
community gardens, and, to shape the experience in ways that track
with the diﬀerent measures and nuances highlighted here.
Third, qualitative studies exploring how the experience of gardening
contributes to improved EWB is needed. For example, household gar-
dener may garden alone and ﬁnd the activity meaningful contributing
to greater EWB; while community gardeners may ﬁnd their social in-
teractions contribute to increased EWB. By further exploring these
through the more nuanced methods shown and with interviews, prac-
titioners and planners can better understand the nuances when im-
plementing gardening interventions.
Urban gardening intersects with three major planning agendas in
cities: (1) livable city agendas, which seek to enhance quality of life; (2)
the Milan Urban Food Pact, which focuses on urban gardening as one of
multiple factors associated with food security; and (3) the SDGs, par-
ticularly SDG #11, which identiﬁes sustainable cities and communities
as a key goal. This paper has developed a protocol to measure EWB
beneﬁts associated with household gardening, in the context of other
infrastructure provisioning and leisure activities, which can inform the
triple goals of developing livable, equitable and sustainable cities. More
speciﬁcally, this paper establishes a protocol for urban decision makers
to better assess the quality of life beneﬁts from urban household gar-
dening both in the context of other activities, and who receives these
beneﬁts by income, race and gender.
Our results highlight four key takeaways.
•Household gardening is associated with high-EWB, which is similar
to Biking and Walking.
•Vegetable gardening is associated with higher EWB than ornamental
•Household gardening is the only activity, in this study, where
women and low-income participants report higher EWB than men
and medium/high-income participants respectively.
•EWB while gardening at home alone is no diﬀerent from gardening
Therefore, household vegetable gardening should be considered
amongst other livability investments, such as biking and walking in-
frastructure, in cities. Additionally, backyard gardening alone may
provide EWB beneﬁts similar to the purported EWB beneﬁts of com-
munity gardens, thus both should be considered as cities address liva-
bility investments. While this implies the importance in the act of ve-
getable gardening itself, nuances between household and community
gardeners’EWB still needs to be unpacked.
National Science Foundation’s Sustainable Research Network Award
G. Ambrose, et al. Landscape and Urban Planning 198 (2020) 103776
CRediT authorship contribution statement
Graham Ambrose: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal ana-
lysis, Writing - original draft, Writing - review & editing, Visualization.
Kirti Das: Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing - review & editing,
Project administration. Yingling Fan: Conceptualization, Methodology,
Writing - review & editing, Funding acquisition, Project administration.
Anu Ramaswami: Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing - original
draft, Writing - review & editing, Funding acquisition, Project admin-
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