Making Mindful Connections in Gardening: A Mental Health Perspective

The importance of mindfulness in our daily living has really taken off in recent years, at least in the mental health profession.  I have worked with countless clients that have utilized mindfulness related skills and techniques to make life more enjoyable. A big part of this enjoyment stems from making quality connections. We as human beings are constantly working on making these connections.  The reasons for making connections vary greatly.  In this article, as promised in my previous article, Caring Plant Support: A Mental Health Perspective, I will focus on the growing interest of mindfulness and how we, as gardeners and plant enthusiast, can combine them into mindful connections.  Vitagliano et al. (2023) included a definition that resonates with my way of thinking from Kabat-Zinn stating that mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience, moment by moment.”  There is also mention of three bidirectional axioms including attention, attitude, and intention (A topic for a future article).  

I noticed, some time back, at one of the botanical gardens that my wife and I visited, the leisurely pace of some of the visitors, while my own pace has always been, let’s go as fast as we can, to not miss anything.  It wasn't until I witnessed this time and time again at different gardens that I realized that I was the one missing out; I was missing the mindful connections as a plant enthusiast and mental health professional.  Fast forward to the present; in collecting different types of passion flowers and gardening, my awareness and attention in the present moment has developed and I have slowed down letting the experience unfold moment by moment.  Expanding our connections to our gardens is worth the experience.  In the picture below I invite you to mindfully notice all the things about this Lady Margaret Passionflower.  Did you notice the butterfly and passionflower have similar colors: the tendrils, yesterday’s flower in the background, and the jagged edges of the leaves.  Did this flower guide your imagination and mellow your current thoughts, away from your day-to-day burdens and tasks.  If it did, you are on your way to making mindful connections.  

What has research found?  In a related study, Ma (2022) found that “growing houseplants is a way of connecting with nature indoors and cultivate better mental well-being and mindfulness levels.”  In a recent study of combining nature and mindfulness, Djernis et al. (2023) found that “nature-based mindfulness intervention revealed a range of qualities of both physical-, psychological-, social- and spiritual nature that are supportive for self-regulation.”


Practicing mindfulness can also involve breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and to reduce stress.  Yes, there are even mindfulness related apps that can be utilized.  I often work with clients to strengthen and develop mindfulness techniques that can be used to reduce symptoms of burnout, stress, anxiety, depression, lack of focus, and so on.  There are many breathing techniques that can be used while focusing on one of your favorite plants or on a pleasant memory from your past - maybe a combination of the two!  Mindfulness can also take the form of guided imagery focusing on animate or inanimate objects.  Try focusing on the coffee cup below. The idea is to notice as much about the object, in this case a Vego coffee cup.  What are five things you notice about the cup?  What do you imagine is inside the cup? Now notice your breathing, your focus, your level of relaxation.  Hopefully you are having relaxing thoughts about a cup of tea, coffee, or favorite beverage.  Remember the idea behind mindful connections is to focus your awareness and attention, to be present in the moment, letting the experience unfold.

garden bed

Dr. Gannon J. Watts PhD, LPC-S, LAC, CCS, NCC, NCSC, AADC, ICAADC, Privilege to Appraise

Djernis, D., Lundsgaard, C. M., Rønn-Smidt, H., & Dahlgaard, J. (2023). Nature-Based Mindfulness: A Qualitative Study of the Experience of Support for Self-Regulation. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland)11(6), 905.

Ma, J. (2022). Interaction with Nature Indoor: Psychological Impacts of Houseplants Care Behaviour on Mental Well-Being and Mindfulness in Chinese Adults.  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(23), 15810.

Vitagliano, L. A., Wester, K. L., Jones, C. T., Wyrick, D. L., & Vermeesch, A. L. (2023). Group Nature-Based Mindfulness Interventions: Nature-Based Mindfulness Training for College Students with Anxiety. International journal of environmental research and public health20(2), 1451.

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