Digging Deeper: The Therapeutic Power of Gardening

From the days since man eked out a frugal existence along riverbanks, gardens have continued to evolve.

But no matter what, they remain a safe haven, an attainment of an earthly paradise that harkens back to the idea of the Garden of Eden. 

Below are a few surprising health benefits to gardening, and the powerful ways that plants can enrich your life. 

Facilitate healing

Sometimes, Monday mornings can feel like a brick wall, and if you’re anything like Wednesday Addams, every day of the week. When it comes to surroundings and the psychological effects it has on the mind, the science is pretty clear.

The fragrant smell of lavender, the sight of dappled sunlight streaming through the windows, and the dulcet tones of birds engage the senses in a way that elicits joy. On the other hand, foul odors, loud noises, and general anxiety can be seriously debilitating to one’s health. 

Some hospitals, conscious of the austere, unforgiving environment of the infirmary, have taken upon themselves to redesign their spaces to incorporate gardens, as patients who were exposed to greenery healed faster than those who saw a brick wall. Even a quick stroll in the garden can alleviate stress and other culprits that hinder healing. 

Become more attuned with the natural world – and yourself

The human mind is a powerful thing, and perhaps that’s why understanding the dying brain is considered the ‘holy grail’ of neuroscience (admittedly bleak, yet also hopeful). In Sue Stuart-Smith’s The Well Gardened Mind, she explores the ‘transitional’ space of the garden, and how gardens are “a meeting place between our innermost, dream-infused selves and the real physical world.” 

Gardening, therefore, allows the gardener to immerse himself in his own inner world while still retaining an awareness of the real world. The end result is a profound appreciation for nature and the interconnectedness of life as a whole. It can be difficult to subscribe to the adage ‘life is beautiful’ when wars are raging, but the magnificence of plants can take the mind to a world of its own, reminding us that beauty can be found in the bleakest of times. 

Don't worry, be happy

The human psyche is a fragile thing – easily shattered by grief, betrayal, and heartache. Flowers are the warriors that help the mind rebuild, petal by petal, leaf by leaf. Rather than abetting an artificial happiness spawned from vices like gambling, gardening promotes a true happiness founded upon the pillars of psychological wellbeing, vigor, and cognitive function. 

The science behind it is that microbes in the soil are linked to an increase in serotonin production, the chemical that boosts mood. The next time you’re in the backyard, don’t be afraid to get up close to the dirt – a hori hori knife can help you conquer stubborn roots or dull clods. 

Provide sustenance 

When you’re eating your own food, you’re not only cutting down on grocery costs – you’re also eating healthier. Many of the processed foods predominant in contemporary diets suffer from a dearth of vital nutrients, such as fiber. At a time when America is facing a health epidemic, health may be the real wealth. You’re also burning calories from all the weeding and digging, which strengthens heart health. 

And if you’re someone that loves trivia or watches the Big Bang Theory, then you probably constantly find ways to work smarter, not harder. Raised garden beds, the epitome of the concept, eliminates the hard toil associated with in-ground gardening, ensuring that you’ll still have plenty of energy left over to enjoy your garden.  

Beneficial for kids

The next time your kids are clamoring to go to the beach, take them to an adventure right in your garden. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ posits that early exposure to microbes and germs can strengthen immune function and ward off autoimmune conditions. With more and more kids glued to their tablets every day, gardening can be a great way to engage them with the outdoors while instilling a sense of responsibility and purpose. Concepts like composting food scraps and starting from seed can teach them the importance of taking care of nature. 

Make gardening fun

An initial foray into gardening can be a frustrating experience, especially if you don’t know where to start. But even professional gardeners were once beginners. Keep things interesting with uniquely shaped or colored plants, including heirloom seeds, which often bear luscious and yes, quirkier, fruit than your average, run-of-the-mill seeds. Spurred on by the intrigue of themed gardens, such as the darkly alluring goth garden or carefree wildflower garden, certain gardeners have chosen to design their garden to reflect a certain color palette or sensibility.   

Start a medicinal or apothecary gardening

A medicinal or apothecary garden gives a practical lens to the healing power of plants. In the past, spirit healers would rely on certain plants to alleviate maladies. The reparative power of plants is evident in everything from the oxygen they release to their ability to boost brain power. Some, like the aromatic lavender, aid in peaceful rest, while others can help improve memory functions. But perhaps the most value derived from those apothecary gardens is their preservation of health, whether from the treatment of minor ailments or for purely aesthetic reasons. 

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