Imagine it’s one of those glorious spring days: warm, that earthy smell, bird song, cobalt blue skies. You can’t help but spend your entire day in the yard raking and weeding, perhaps planting some seeds and filling a few planters. Afterwards you sit back feeling satisfied, taking it all in and relaxing with your feet up. It is no surprise that you feel pretty darn good, your heartbeat elevated and your muscles a little sore. You even obtained some well-deserved Vitamin D for your efforts. These benefits are just the beginning of a long (and growing) list as more and more research examines the effects of gardening on mind and body.
Horticulture therapy-based studies have concluded that gardening brings a sense of well-being and stress reduction with it. It also decreases the likelihood of stroke and other heart diseases, dementia, Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Most recently, gardening has been linked to “centenarian status,” that is, living to be 100 years old. By connecting to the nature that surrounds us, we also connect with a deeper part of ourselves, which leads us, unconsciously, to want to nurture our well-being. It is no coincidence that gardens are cropping up at hospitals and rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, schools, libraries, nursing homes, and community centers of all kinds. Participating in a growing season that moves from seed to flower and seeing the fruits of one’s labor are not only their own rewards but a powerful motivator for living.
Gardening provides an excellent opportunity for problem solving – setting a goal and formulating the means, from task to task, to that end. The expenditure of brain power helps us feel satisfied and smart! Even time spent on a “brainless” task, such as raking, or removing a large patch of weeds from a bed, can be the perfect opportunity to meditate, reflect, or plan. This contemplative practice can be revitalizing and healing to one’s emotional self, and often conjures up feelings of forgiveness and letting go.
On the physical level, maintenance gardening also encourages dexterity in our hands and fingers, as well as the larger muscles, and there are many tools to compensate for aging.
Yes, gardeners get their hands dirty. But studies have shown that the “friendly” soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae (common in garden dirt and absorbed by inhalation or ingestion of vegetables), have been found to pump up our immune systems and sometimes alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies, and asthma. Exposure to the bacteria has also been known to alleviate pain by an unexplained euphoric sensation that mimics “runner’s high.”
To experience at least some of these health benefits, please consider joining the Landis Arboretum Garden Club when we spring clean the gardens at Landis (April 9, 10 AM — noon). And how about taking our Introduction to Contemplative Gardening class (August 17, 10 AM – noon)? Both events, as well as many other opportunities to bring you into contact with the natural world, are described in the Arboretum’s 2019 Calendar of Events.