I have a T-shirt emblazoned with, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”
In these days of reiterating Covid viruses, time spent in the garden gives you far more than just tomatoes.
The truth is that we’re all tired of living with Covid. We’re tired of the interruptions, inconveniences, and lack of social contact, tired of the masks and social conflicts. Amidst our pandemic fatigue, it has become easy to forget that this disease continues to be a life-threatening ordeal for many because of illness or medical therapies. Healthy individuals seem to forget that their lack of a mask or vaccine can mean a death sentence for the rest of us. As of this morning, friends and families of more than 5.6 million people are mourning the loss of their loved one to Covid.
See how we are these days?
We rant, we withdraw, we divide and shun. And spending time in a garden or working with plants is a big help during those times.
Gardening slows your pace
You can’t rush an artichoke plant. You can’t hurry thyme. They will grow as they do and all you can do is nurture them and watch. As you look closely at your plants, at the soil, you may start to see details you never knew were there, and some of your stress will slip away.
Many years ago, I owned a private school called Children’s Academy. Our slogan was, “Where K-12 learning is fun!” And it was. One activity we did each year was the Red Yarn Circle. Each student was given a clipboard with a large sheet of high-quality drawing paper, a freshly sharpened pencil with a good eraser, and a 3-foot section of fat, red yard. They were told to select a spot of their choice on the school’s 3-acre property, create a circle with their red yard on the ground, and draw whatever they saw within that circle. It was common for new students to groan when they heard this assignment. “There’s nothing there!” They would protest. But I would insist, and they would begin.
Being made to stop, look closely, and think about (or draw) what you see can take you into an entirely new world. Battles are still being fought, but they are between beetles, not nations. Bits of shale become bejeweled boulders. Your perspective shifts, and things that were upsetting fade away. Gardening helps you achieve the same sense of tranquility and perspective. If you let it.
Working the soil improves mood
Some therapies are more effective when combined with medication. Gardening has its own chemical benefits. One soil microorganism in particular, Mycobacterium vaccae, improves mood. This microorganism is absorbed through tiny cuts in our skin and inhaled on dust particles as we garden. Once inside our bodies, these microorganisms cause a chemical reaction similar to the effects of Prozac. [Note: If you are having an especially difficult time dealing with life these days, call 800-273-8255 for help.]
Gardening helps you focus
You probably don’t watch the news or follow social media while in the garden. The sheer volume of information faced by people today is enough to send anyone to the madhouse. The human psyche can only handle so many conflicts. Working in the garden lets much of that slip away. Instead of thinking about global problems that you have no control over, you focus on the here and now. What’s causing a misshapen leaf or stem? What might be feeding on your squash? You may notice the asparagus has begun to send up delicious shoots. It’s a much healthier perspective, in my opinion.
I believe that, as you notice the needs of your plants, you are probably more likely to notice your own needs as well. Did you remember your hat or sunscreen? Are you staying hydrated? Eat a fresh, sun-ripened cherry tomato. You know. The important stuff. And this isn’t just my opinion.
Over the past few years, a significant body of evidence has demonstrated that gardening provides a wealth of benefits. Not only does gardening help you lose weight and put you back in sync with natural cycles, but research also demonstrates that gardening reduces depression and anxiety while improving “life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community.” [Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis, Masashi Soga, et al]
If you feel your mental reserves have been used up, head to the garden or pamper your potted plants. They really will help you feel better.
Plus, you get tomatoes!
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.