Long ago, in a time far far away…
My grandfather was an avid gardener. In the acre behind their home he had created a small oasis of vegetables and fruits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. We had potatoes, carrots, rhubarb, corn, green beans, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, and so much more. I remember afternoons with my grandma helping shuck corn or peel and clean the fruits to make pie. It seemed like so long ago, being able to spend an entire afternoon with no tv, Facebook, no digital distractions. Just sitting in the sun with my grandma, my own imagination and some happy bees and ladybugs creating the entertainment around me.
So for 3 years each Spring in lovely CO I have tried to grow veggies and have a little urban patio garden. The first summer, things looked good until we left for Texas for a long weekend, and it happened to reach freakish 97 degrees while no one was home. So our plants were fried to a crisp. The next year, I planted a bit too early and we had a late May storm just before Memorial day that left us 4″ of snow overnight. I didn’t try to replant my peppers and tomatoes that were already 2′ tall by that point. So needless to say, I hadn’t had much luck with things actually growing to the edible point, but there is more that comes from the cultivating than just food.
The Beauty is in the Journey
The whole process of searching out what plants I wanted to have in my garden, and figuring out how to layout the buckets or raised beds. Ventures to the stores and nurseries to just look at everything and get an idea for what I could grow on my own. Planting, cultivating, troubleshooting all a part of the world of gardening. I am one of those who loves the process and watching an idea grow. The food that comes from the garden, whenever I am able to reach that point, is a bonus.
The things we can learn in the process are sometimes just as beneficial as the end result, especially when it seems like there is nothing to show for all our efforts. When it comes to gardening, the mental health benefits even have a name: Horticulture Therapy. Who knew that was even a thing?
Horticulture Therapy has been a long standing practice since ancient times, and followed by some of our country’s leaders from our beginning. Dr. Benjamin Rush was not only a signer of the the Declaration of Independence and a founder of the College of Physicians. He was also a pioneer in American psychiatry and one of the first to study the positive effects of gardening for mental health. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that Horticulture Therapy became a recognized professional area of medicine.
Here are 5 Mental Health Benefits from Growing Your Garden:
Mood Enhancement :
Flowers, plants, seeing life in general, sparks happy feel good emotions. Our brains release dopamine and serotonin just from looking at a plant or touching a flower. I find I feel better about the day when I sit and spend some time just watching the life in my garden – the butterflies flitting about, or just noticing the new petals and leaves that weren’t there yesterday. It gives me a sense that there is life, and abundant life at that, teeming all around us. The constant growth and change in our gardens reminds us that we are part of a larger, ever evolving and growing world. The happy mood chemistry in the brain is an amazing mental booster!
San Francisco Bay Area hospitals. In the survey, 79 percent of patients said they felt more relaxed and calm, 19 percent felt more positive, and 25 percent felt refreshed and stronger after spending time in a garden.by Hillside | Apr 5, 2019 | Horticulture Therapy, Mental Health
Creating a Wonderous Escape:
Like being a child back with my grandmother, I can get lost in just watching the plants and life in the garden. The book Secret Garden was one of my favorites, but honestly is was more because I had a crush on Dikon; not because I was that big on flowers in general. As an adult I can now see why they had built such a huge lovely garden to escape to. There is something to be said about losing yourself for a moment and enjoying the bliss of watching a lady bug balance from petal to petal – and being able to leave the chaotic world behind for a smidgen of time.
Subconsciously Reaching for Better Health:
Focusing on nature changes your mindset about health in subconscious ways. When I am seeing my own cucumber and tomato plants start to grow it translates into looking at the produce section more when I go to the grocery store. It’s like the anticipation of waiting for my plants to be ready to harvest makes me crave more green foods in general. I have been trying to focus on foods that bless my body, rather than label foods “good” or “bad”. Looking at a large salad full of a variety of colorful veggies – I know that food if going to make my body feel good – fuel it right – have healthy benefits – which blesses my body.
A Sense of Agency:
We are in essence adopting these living things to help them grow up healthy and strong. Giving your mind a sense of purpose and duty almost for this fragile thing that needs you. Being of service to another person, or other living creature, brings some feeling of peace and harmony. It is also a good lesson in our locus of control, and what is beyond it.
Understanding we can do everything to help the plant grow, to keep it alive, etc. It may not thrive, and that’s not because we did anything wrong. That’s just life sometimes. It’s a hard lesson, but very real. Kids can even learn about the circle of life through pets and plants to better understand the world.
The Value of Attunement:
Attunement is figuring out what an individual needs are and how they effect people different. We have to learn to attune to each species of plant differently. They need varied sun, water, nurtrients, pruning, etc – and all will thrive better when given what they need. Finding what one plant needs vs another – is almost like a relationship and takes time to learn.
It is said when you begin your road to recovery, that before you can be in a relationship you should get a plant first.
If the plant is alive in 6 months, you can get a pet.
If after another year both the plant and the pet are alive and well, THEN you are ready to be present and caring for another human.– “28 Days”
Enjoying the Journey
Caring for plants, helping them grow, and learning about myself has done more for my mental health than those amazing ripe red tomatoes will do for my meal. But I absolutely appreciate those lovely tomatoes and sharing them with those I love!