Now that the growing season is in full swing, I find myself spending more and more time in my garden. Sure, it is work, sometimes, hard work. It is sometimes frustrating or even disappointing when I lose the battle with the insects or birds and they get to my produce before me. Still, the benefits of gardening for the physical and mental health of myself and my family are so great that even some loss of harvest cannot outweigh them. So, what exactly is the importance of gardening? How can horticultural therapy help?
The Importance of Gardening
There are tons of benefits to gardening, including the backyard, urban gardening that I am doing. Most obviously, there are clear benefits to growing your own food; and even more, to growing it organically:
- independence from the supply chain
- quick access to fruits and veggies
- choosing what you want to grow (based on what you’ll be eating)
- staying clear from potentially toxic pesticides and other growing aided
- health benefits of eating plants
Related Post: Lessons from my Garden
But there is more to horticultural therapy than just the practical benefits of eating more green stuff and staying independent of the supply chain. Horticultural therapy has been scientifically researched and the science is clear: There is only good that comes out of tending a garden.
The positive association with gardening was observed for a wide range of health outcomes, such as reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, stress, mood disturbance, and BMI, as well as increases in quality of life, sense of community, physical activity levels, and cognitive function.Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis
Benefits to Your Physical Health
We all know how important it is to move our body in order to remain healthy and ward off disease. Gardening might seem like a very low-impact activity, but if you spend eve a few hours per week in the garden, it can add up. Some activities are not going to break a sweat, while others can be a back breaking labor.
Getting a Healthy Dose of Vitamin D
I step outside into my garden every morning, usually with my coffee in hand, to inspect my “babies.” Spending time in the morning sun, exposing my face, arms, maybe back to the sun without sunscreen for several minutes is my way of getting a daily dose of the health-bringing Vitamin D. Of course, if I work in the garden for a longer time, I make sure to slather on a quality sunscreen and wear protective hat and sunglasses.
Eating Green Stuff and Feeding the Microbiome
It’s scientifically proven that the more varied our plant intake is, the better our microbiome, and by extension, our general health. That doesn’t mean that we have to grow a hundred varieties of veggies, but even having several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, leafy greens, some root vegetables, and maybe some berries can do wonders for bettering our diets. And, believe me, nothing tastes as good as freshly picked greens and veggies. They just burst with flavor and you can literally taste the sunshine that went into it.
Benefits for Mental Health
My garden is my zen oasis. This is the place I escape to when life gets tough. Tending to my plants, be it veggies or ornamentals, lets me forget my worries. Nothing in the garden remains the saem from one day to another. Realizing this constant change helps me get anchored in the moment. Not thinking about yesterday, not thinking about tomorrow, just being there and now, tending to where my help is needed.
Gardening is truly a major de-stressor and provides an opportunity for a nice walking- or working meditation. No cushion, no ohms needed here. Just being in the sun, with the hands in the dirt, tending to the plants is enough to quiet the mind, release anxiety, and let the stress melt away.
Gardening alleviates stress by reducing the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in a person’s brain. Gardening even performed better at reducing cortisol than other supposed relaxing activities such as light reading.Gardening Therapy: The Science Behind Planting And Plotting
Here in the West, we tend to be afraid of any microbes that might lurk somewhere unseen, like in the soil. We obsessively wash hands, and rarely eat anything that has not been triple rinsed, often with soap or soaked in vinegar or a special “veggie wash.” And still, more and more people seem to have auto-immune disorders, suffer from allergies, and have less than optimal digestion. It is well beyond my pay grade to say why it might be so, but let me just point out one interesting study about the effects of soil microbes on our mental health.
Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered using laboratory mice, that a “friendly” bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin and altered the mice’s behavior in a similar way to antidepressants.Medical News Today
Though not having as strong effects as taking antidepressants, the bacteria can act in a similar way to a lesser extent. What sounds better? Years of popping anti-depressant pills or playing in the dirt with the head in the sun, being in contact with nature? I’d say, the answer is clear for me.
Horticultural Therapy for Everyone
Clearly, gardening offers a multitude of benefits to our health. The importance of gardening for our well-being cannot be underestimated. It works on a small-scale level, like in an urban garden with a few raised beds, some grow bags, and some ornamental plants around the house. It works on a much larger scale, helping the elderly cope with their physical and mental ailments or people in difficult social circumstances, like prisons, to improve their outlook and help them cope.
Horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational, and community settings.American Horticultural Therapy Association
My heart grows whenever I walk or drive by my son’s school and see the large garden that the school is tending. The kids have gardening lessons once or twice per week, and by the time the school year is over, they get to prepare a feast with the lettuces, carrots, and radishes that they grew. What a fun way of learning how to connect to others and the always-providing nature.
How About You?
Are you currently a gardener? If not, are you thinking about it? If so, do not be afraid. It is fine to start slow, even with just a few pots on the windowsill or a grow bag or two on the balcony. Once you realize the benefits from gardening, and if it is a possibility at all, you might expand later. Set up a few raised beds in the backyard or join an allotment garden with a small plot of your own.
An easy way to start is the wonderful One-stop-shop at True Leaf Market. You get seeds, gardening supplies, even microgreen, and sprouting setups if that is where you would like to start. Check out their website for details (affiliate link).