I keenly remember my mom working a garden in several of the homes she lived in later in her life. One was little more than rock and gravel patch of dirt, yet she managed to harvest a few tomatoes and zucchini in spite of the inhospitable ground. And while I always enjoyed the taste if she had any extras, my life was far too important and fast paced to even imagine having the time or interest. Now here I am so many years later, spending time nearly every day nurturing tiny green plants in my care. Though it’s taken a while, I’ve gradually come to realize that many of the hidden benefits my mother harvested from her garden went far beyond the obvious. In fact, after reading up on the benefits of gardening I’ve come to realize that this simple action might be a cure for what ails many people, as well as the planet herself.
I think many of us consider gardening to be either a quaint pastime for seniors or a passion for nature lovers. My interest in gardening grew out of a desire to make my lifestyle more in alignment with my hope for a more sustainable and sane world. So when my husband Thom and I purchased a more compact home that matched our new values several years ago, we decided another possible step was to build a raised-bed garden and experiment with growing vegetables. That action turned out to be just the beginning of a new and rewarding part of our lives.
When I talk to most people about gardening the conversation is usually about the quality and taste. And yes, it goes without saying that the quality and the taste is a huge advantage to growing your own food. But what most of us fail to realize, are the many other benefits involved. Fortunately a number of studies now help to prove those many rewards. Here are a few I found most interesting:
* Improves well-being in older women. Study author Mary Infantino identified gardening as cognitively protective. Her study explains, “The phenomenon of gardening is analogous to the relationship between a spider and its web, linking internal and external environments and providing support over a lifetime. It appears that the gardening experience, as an evolving lifelong process, sustains older women in their cognitive and spiritual development.”
* Orange is the new green. According to a post on the website eatocracy.com, farm programs “…teach (prison) inmates about nutrition, how to grow food and related life-skill lessons. The programs supply healthy food for prison cafeterias as well as for nearby restaurants and homeless shelters. Not only that: These gardening programs have been shown to reduce the rate of repeated incarceration.”
* Lower risk of dementia as we age. A study in Australia shows that people who garden daily have a 36% less chance of developing dementia in later life.
* Gardening promotes relief from acute stress. Science now documents that the act of gardening both restores a positive mood after a stressful experience while significantly decreasing the cortisol levels in the body.
* Improves the mental well-being of homeless women. According to a study done in Atlanta in 2013, “The gardening experience interrupted the participants’ negative ruminations, offering stress relief and elements of social inclusion and self-actualization. Gardening is an inexpensive and positive intervention for a population with a high incidence of mental illness and distress. “
* Encourages healing and makes us feel better about life and ourselves. Hospitals around the country are planting gardens and encouraging patients to spend time there. According to Dr. Roger Ulrich, from Texas A & M University, “If researchers had proposed 20 years ago that gardens and gardening could improve medical outcomes they would have been met with derision and skepticism. “ Thankfully we now know how beneficial gardens really are.
While this is just a brief list of some of the more interesting studies, there are plenty more. Gardening and/or just spending time in nature has been proven to help our concentration and memory, provide exercise, boost our mood and increase our happiness, improve our relationships, enhance our performance on the job, increase our energy, alleviate symptoms of ADD, create more positive attitudes, reduce neighborhood crime, cause people to upgrade and beautify their neighborhood, and even leads to traffic safety. And notice I haven’t even mentioned the benefits of making our planet healthier and less toxic for our children and ourselves?
This is the third year that Thom and I have experimented with a garden and it is gradually coming to an end for the season. We live in the desert southwest so our growing period is opposite of most others in the U.S. This year we grew from seeds that we planted ourselves. Nurturing and watching those seeds as they grew bit by bit was a daily reminder of the miracle of life that happens every day around us. Now that some of those seeds are finally grown and we are able to eat the fruits of our labor, it’s impossible to deny the feeling of connection to something bigger than ourselves. As a guy named Robert Brault said, “Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.” Beyond that it is impossible to explain the sense of empowerment, satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from eating what you’ve grown yourself.
So why don’t more people garden? Supposedly there are three reasons. #1.The big one is that people say they don’t have time. I used that one myself. For years I said I didn’t have time but what I was really saying was it wasn’t that important to me. Until I started valuing what I put in my body (and that of my family) and acknowledged what big agricultural growers are doing to mass-produce my food, I made excuses. Until I admitted that unsustainable farming practices are polluting our planet and our bodies just so I don’t have to get involved, it continues. Ultimately, it’s pointless to say we want to live a healthy lifestyle when we don’t admit how disconnected we’ve all become with what it takes to grow healthy food.
#2. The next excuse is that people don’t have space. Luckily there are now a wide variety of growing methods available to help in this case. Our two different types of garden towers will fit on just about any patio, no matter how small your home or apartment.
#3. The final excuse is that people say they don’t have enough information to get started. I’ll admit this one held us back a while. But the Internet is full of information if you take the time to explore. Another good alternative is to check to see if your city sponsors a community garden and learn from fellow gardeners while making new friends.
Obviously people will continue to find excuses if they want in spite of the evidence. But for anyone who wants a proven way to a happier and healthier life, a garden is a great answer for whatever ails you. Plus, maybe it is SMART to admit that a good solution for helping to ease some of the suffering and struggle in our world, is as simple as us all taking the time to plant a few seeds and then nurture them while they grow.