Some of my earliest memories involve sights of rich, dark soils, green leaves that seemed to go on forever, plump black and yellow bumblebees, and sweet smells of tomatoes on the vine. I couldn’t estimate the number of times I ran barefoot on the cool, fragrant path to my grandmother’s vegetable garden or the hours I spent alongside her picking beans in the searing sun.
On the warmest of days, she would cut a freshly-picked watermelon or cantaloupe beneath the giant twin oak trees of her backyard, and we would devour the sweet, cooling, sticky fruit with great delight. I guess you could say I am nostalgic about gardening.
Although I’ll always cherish those memories, the idea of horticulture has taken on a more urgent meaning for me through the years. During my childhood, most everyone we knew had a garden. Both small- and large-scale cultivation was a clean, healthy way to work with Nature and harvest good food. Ideas of genetically engineered seeds, and certain herbicides and pesticides that damage the Earth’s soils and harm human health had not yet hit the radar. Now, after decades of folks devoting less time to growing, home and community gardens seem to be making a comeback. Below are a few ways gardening can bring more joy and health back into your life.
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1. You choose the growing methods. If you need to amend the soil or protect against pests or weeds, you decide what products or practices to use. You may choose to go organic, or at the least, avoid harsh chemicals. The microbes in your soil and your gut will benefit as a result.
2. Good stewardship of your little piece of Earth affects the whole. You might seed plants that attract bees, hummingbirds, or butterflies that can help pollinate your garden as well as others. Plants produce oxygen and absorb carbon, so you’re reducing global warming on a small scale. (Imagine if every one of us gardened!) Flowers can improve the look of your plot of land as well as your neighborhood. And the fragrance of some blooming trees can enthrall anyone within a stone’s throw.
3. Working in a garden is good for your mindset. Sue Stuart-Smith, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and author of ‘The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature’, writes about researched effects of gardening programs on those suffering from trauma, depression or anxiety, learning-disabled children, and prisoners. The positive differences gardening makes for these diverse populations are nothing short of amazing: mood, confidence, and self-esteem are boosted. And chances of recidivism are reduced. When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us, the author adds.
4. Protect yourself from food and nutrition insecurity. In the US, supply chains have been slow for many months. Purchasing healthy food has become more challenging, especially in heavily populated areas of the country. In addition, a CNN article entitled ‘The US Food System is Killing Americans’ states our food system is our country’s pre-existing condition that leaves us all at greater risk (i.e. for Covid and its possible consequences). Having home-grown veggies at the ready, along with a few simple recipes, can help you change that.
5. Get your good, green exercise! Exercising in the great outdoors (and rest assured, gardening is exercise!) is doubly beneficial. ‘Alive Magazine’, a leader in natural health publishing for almost 50 years, shared a write-up encouraging outdoor exercise due to its ability to enhance vitamin D levels, which can help us avoid cancers and heart disease. Furthermore, due to outside sights and sounds being more interesting, outside exercise increases the chances that we will stick to our routine. When you find you’re short on motivation to move, gardening might be the perfect fix.
Gardening is an endeavor that benefits mind, body, and spirit. Whether or not you are nostalgic about it like me, planting a garden is making a stand that you will protect the health of the Earth and your family, and that you trust in your connection with Nature to help sustain you.
Lisa Miller is a writer, scratch cook, gardener-in-the-making, and outdoor enthusiast who has lived in Northern Arizona since 2010. Most evenings, she can be found preparing yummy plant-based meals while listening to really good music. Each week, she shares thoughts and research on how human health is tied into Nature along with occasional vegan recipes at www.microofthemacro.com.