The Mind and Body Health Benefits of Gardening

Apr 17, 2023
Young woman is smiling as she pushes a laughing toddler in a wheelbarrow through a bushy garden path.

I recently took a five-day trip to visit my eighty-two-year-old mother. She is having health issues and I wanted to go with her when she had her doctor's appointment.

When I left home, I was worried that my husband wouldn’t remember to water all the vegetables and flowers I had so carefully planted and nursed along the last couple of months.

To my delight, everything was growing and blooming when I got home. What a lift to my spirits after a six-hour drive. I couldn’t help but smile at the colorful display greeting me as I entered the gate to my yard.

But the best reaction came from my mother. I had convinced her to come and stay for a week, to get out of her tiny apartment and relax in the quiet and space my home provides.

I believed some of her health issues were brought on by anxiety and depression. Being cooped up and confused by all things related to the pandemic.

Her first words were, “Wow, how pretty!” I could see the pleasure in her face as she looked around the space. And she is not a gardener, has never been one to take the time to grow vegetables, flowers, or herbs of her own.

image by Mikey Sackman

Mom looked at me before we went into the house and remarked, “I don’t know where you got your green thumb. You must have inherited it from your grandma because it didn’t come from me.”

It was an interesting comment. I have enjoyed gardening for as long as I can remember. But I seriously couldn’t recall a time when my mother did any yardwork, planted flowers or vegetables, or even had pots of plants around our home growing up.

My grandmother always had a huge garden. Maybe I did get the gardening gene from her.

I thought about that again later as I was cleaning Swiss chard, fresh from my little vegetable patch, to serve for dinner. Why do I love gardening so? What is it about digging in the dirt, harvesting my own vegetables, or just looking at my colorful flower beds that makes me feel so good?

There are obvious benefits to gardening. Access to your own fresh vegetables provides more nutritional value than canned or frozen. You harvest when the produce is ripe and usually consume it before there is a loss of important vitamins and minerals.

Some people like knowing just what they are consuming. The idea of controlling what chemicals are used (or not) in growing their food is important to their overall health. But fresh, organically grown food can be purchased from farmer’s markets and many grocery stores, especially through late spring into the fall seasons. 

There is also a cost-saving factor in growing your own food. Many people consider this to be motivation enough for putting in the time and effort to having a vegetable garden.

Although those are legitimate reasons to plant a garden, working the dirt does something more for me than fill my belly and pad my pocketbook. Gardening feeds my mind, body, and soul.

One of the first things I did when we bought our home about two years ago was clean up the overgrown yard and flower beds. I planted some perennials and filled several pots with colorful flowers.

Even though the house itself needs some major renovation, sprucing up the outside made it feel like home. The place felt loved and looked happier. I could almost hear its sigh of gratitude.

I wasn’t in a position to start any big projects, but removing the weeds and adding color made me feel like I was taking steps in the right direction. That accomplishment made me feel good and inspired me to think about the possibilities our new home had.

Gardening is a good way to get exercise. The work entailed in starting my garden definitely had me up and moving. It continues to do so as I add more flower beds and create raised-bed vegetable spaces.

Exercise lowers blood pressure and burns calories. Maybe not as many as jogging or swimming. But any form of exercise is good for you. It also improves your mood as those wonderful feel-good endorphins are released throughout your body.

The physical work of maintaining a garden has other hidden benefits. Cultivating your patch of vegetables or flower beds requires being outside. Being outside means you are soaking up that all-important Vitamin D which is not only good for your bones but also improves sleep and energy levels.

Digging in the dirt, good healthy soil, can actually alleviate depression. According to research, soil contains mycobacterium vaccae which may provide long-lasting mental health benefits, especially those related to stress.

Personally, I find that gardening helps me relax when I am stressed or feeling overwhelmed. Stress produces cortisol which is associated with many physical and mental health issues. Weight gain, high blood pressure, immune function, memory, and depression just to name a few.

Sometimes, I just step outside and wander through my yard pinching back spent blossoms from my flower bed or pulling random weeds from my vegetable patch.

It seems like a mindless task, but it’s not all that unusual for me to get so engrossed in my gardening tasks that I forget about everything else going on in the world.

That temporary timeout often gives me new perspectives or brings solutions to light. Plants don’t argue back, don’t push their opinions, don’t discourage ideas and brainstorming.

I also love watching my garden grow. Literally. If you are a gardener, you know what I mean. When those first few plants peek their little green sprouts through the soil, there is joy in our soul.

There is something about nurturing a garden, whether it’s flowers, fruits, or vegetables, that gives you a sense of accomplishment. You see the benefits of your work, you feel a sense of worthiness.

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes. From acre size plots to patio pots. It doesn’t have to be perfect. A garden grows as you grow.

If you are new to gardening or have limited space, start small. Grow what you like. Gardening is one activity that provides a never-ending opportunity to learn, experiment, create.

It is almost impossible to separate what goes on in our hearts and brain from our physical well-being. Gardening is a way of nurturing every aspect of our humanness.

I feel blessed to have the opportunity to plant, water, and weed. To watch my garden grow. To slip away from the world and gain perspective. To feed my soul with my hands in the dirt.

I’d like to think I inherited a green thumb from my grandmother. I learned so many things from her. 

But I doubt there is a gardening gene passed on from one generation to the other. I think we just need to spend time in a garden. As we unconsciously feel the benefits, we will want to do more of it. Sort of like a positive addiction.

I am hoping to get my mother out in my garden while she is here. I’ll see if my theory works. It certainly won’t hurt to try.

Feel a bit guilty for not taking better care of yourself?

Wish you had more time for it?

The Self-Care Mini-Workbook will help you discover what you are doing or could be doing to enhance your self-care practices? Give it a try for free!

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