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If you’re like us, you love to garden. There’s no better feeling than getting outside in the sun and soil, whether we’re working in large landscapes or in a few containers on a front stoop. We’re rewarded each day with beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers in our landscapes and abundant fruits and vegetables from our gardens. If you’ve never gardened before and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, we’re glad you’re here. Gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can do, with long-lasting positive effects to yourself, your community, and to the world at large. Here are just some of the many reasons that we garden. We hope some of these will inspire you to get started as well.
There are plenty of studies out there that are beginning to show that activities such as gardening can help improve your overall physical and mental well-being.
General gardening is a repetitive low to medium impact form of exercise that requires a certain amount of strength and stretching to perform. This strength and stretching works all of the major muscle groups (as our sore muscles will remind us after a long break from being out in the garden). One benefit of this workout is that it may decrease the likelihood of osteoporosis later in life. Because of its low impact nature, gardening makes for an excellent activity for those who are older, have disabilities or suffer from chronic pain.
If that wasn’t good enough, studies by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute scores thirty minutes of gardening (and other comparable activities) several times a week second in recommended ways to battle high blood pressure. Even studies from the British Journal of Sports Medicine say that activities such as gardening can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke and prolong life by as much as 30% among people aged 60 or older.
Another perk of gardening is the fact that we get to play in the dirt all of the time. That fascination we had as kids of jumping into every mud puddle we see translated quite well into our lives in the garden. Lucky for us, because it turns out that love of dirt is beneficial for our overall health. Research suggests that children who are exposed to dirt (or its more politically correct term, soil) in their formative years develop stronger immune systems and lower incidences of conditions such as asthma, eczema, and other allergies.
We’re addicted to technology. It’s an unfortunate side effect to this connected world that we live in. This attention we devote to our emails and our smartphones is considered a form of “directed attention” that our brains have only a finite amount of capacity for. When we overload we become irritable, error-prone, and stressed out. Gardening is your cure! The routine of gardening is a form of “effortless attention” that can be accomplished almost by instinct, allowing your brain to relax and release its backlog of tension.
It sounds like it’s too good to be true, but studies in the Netherlands are showing there is some validity to this claim. The study divided two groups between gardening for thirty minutes and reading indoors after performing a stressful task. Those that gardened reported to be in a much better mood than the group that read. One wonders if the readers would have felt better reading outside.
The reason for the improved moods of gardeners might be found in the soil itself. Within the soil is a naturally forming and harmless bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae. When used in studies, this bacteria raises serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter that controls cognitive functions and mood. In fact, gardening has been used by researchers in Norway to help patients with severe depression. In all cases the patients experienced improved moods; even several months after the studies took place.
There is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining a vibrant vegetable garden and basking in the abundance of a fresh harvest. As most who garden can attest, the taste of fresh vegetables is far superior to anything you can purchase at the supermarket. There really is no comparison. It’s also much cheaper, too. A well planted and well maintained tomato plant can provide months of fresh tomatoes for your kitchen.
Beyond their uses on your kitchen table, gardeners can use their skills in the garden for their medicine cabinets as well. Many natural herbal remedies can be made at home and offer simple methods for treating minor complaints. Anyone who has suffered from sunburn can attest to how soothing a small amount of sap from an aloe plant can be.
I can hear you thinking it now. “I’m already a healthy person. I exercise regularly, eat great, and am generally happy in life without gardening. I wouldn’t even know the difference between a shovel and a trowel.” Even so, getting into gardening has so many beneficial effects that can improve your personal life and the life of your community.
Gardening is a hobby that provides a feeling of accomplishment and reward for those who do it. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a successful garden allows us to focus on the beautiful things in life. The feelings of abundance when we harvest armfuls of tomatoes and cucumbers; the feelings of awe we have when a seedling we planted at a young age grows with us into adulthood to the massive shade tree that it is now. We become grateful for all of the things we can accomplish.
Garden also can instill in us compassion for others. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to keep a garden going. We need to account for the needs of the various plants in our care, including watering, fertilization and pruning. This focus on needs beyond our own can translate to our personal relationships as well.
According to Amy Gifford of the National Gardening Association, gardening is a great way to teach kids valuable life lessons. Gardening teaches “about patience as they wait for vegetables to grow, responsibility as they see how necessary their care is to the garden, and even loss when flowers die at the end of a season.” Even if you don’t have the room for a large garden, maintaining several potted vegetables or flowers on a balcony or front stoop can provide the same effect. Plus it gets us outside, and that’s a wonderful thing.
The love of gardening and beautification can be a real boon for local communities. According to the Chicago Public Housing Development, residents who live in areas with natural landscapes know their neighbors better, spend more time outdoors, and generally live in a safer environment. Beautifying roadways can have the dual effect of providing pleasing roadside landscapes while at the same time providing a natural median to make the roadway somewhat safer for surrounding communities.
A growing phenomenon across the country the backs up this sense of community and gardening is the rising popularity of community gardens. Whether it’s a neighbor with an extra plot of land to share with his neighbors or a group of row houses getting together on a vacant lot to share in the spoils of happy gardening, community gardens bring neighbors and families together through hard work and a shared bounty.
Despite all of the benefits that gardening provides to ourselves and our local communities, gardening provides an even greater benefit to the world around us. We live in a symbiotic relationship with our plants. Through photosynthesis, plants use sunshine to synthesize food from the carbon dioxide we breathe out and the water they take in through their roots. As a waste product, these plants send out oxygen which allows us to breathe.
Plants can also contribute to removing pollutants in our waterways. Many eco-friendly gardeners are now creating rain gardens which use native plants and unique reservoirs to capture and use run off from rain, thus preventing pollutants from reaching streams and lakes and getting into our waterways.
And finally, the plants we plant help to provide both food and shelter to wildlife, allowing for a diverse natural habitat. Now if we could only get the deer to eat the neighbor’s hostas.
Even if you don’t have a lot of yard space to get a small garden together, you can still benefit from the benefits of becoming a gardener. Even a few houseplants in your living spaces or some containers of flowers or vegetables on a balcony or front stoop can help you gain the benefits of this tremendous way of life. And remember, we here at Meadows Farms are always available with advice and answers to all of your questions. Through gardening, we’ll strive for improved health, a better life, and a great world through gardening.