Folks are flocking to gardening. In fact, gardening has replaced golf as Canada’s most popular outdoor pastime, and is 3rd only to watching television and reading as the most common activity enjoyed by Canadians. However, there’s more to gardening than trend or consumerism. New evidence suggests that gardening fulfills some of our deepest physical and emotional needs. Research shows that connection with nature is important for our health and well-being. Hiking to a remote wilderness setting is not the only way to reap the benefits of getting back to the land. A visit to the garden may be just as helpful.
Working in a garden is one way of getting away from the tyranny of the mind, to loosen the grip of our worries and concerns and connect with a deeper part of ourselves. The health benefits of gardening are many: just sitting in a garden can lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system and brighten a mood. The digging, squatting, raking and shoveling we do in the garden can be as effective as a workout in a gym, and better still, we are using our bodies in a more natural way. Yard work can be as good as weight-lifting, and better than jogging for building stronger bones.
The psychological benefits of gardening are well documented. Walking through or sitting in a garden full of flowers can promote relaxation, lower stress, and stimulate the senses. Horticulture therapy has used the healing power of plants to help people recover from trauma and pain, reduce hostility, and manage stress. Gardening allows us to feel a sense of grounding to the Earth, and to witness the daily miracle of creation. It can be meditative: we lose ourselves in our task and time seems to drift. We leave behind the pressures and busyness of modern life to be mindful of the little things – the ants on the back of leaves, the tiny rootlets in the soil, and the water droplets on a petal.
While there are many different approaches to gardening, there are a few simple ways to maximize the healing benefits of your garden. First of all, don’t just work in your garden, be in your garden. Put in a bench or a swing, and take time to sit and think and to smell the roses, literally and figuratively.
Next, plan your garden so that it delights all your senses: use smell, colour, texture and even sound. Bring in all the elements: wind, fire, earth, and water. The sound of a fountain, a bath for the birds, the tinkle of wind chimes, and lights from candles can increase the relaxing effects of the garden.
Even a Master Gardener never really masters a garden. See yourself as a co-creator, working with Mother Nature to create a work of art. Remember, control over nature is an illusion. An errant snowstorm, a late frost, or a sudden burst of hail on a hot summer’s afternoon can lay to waste the best-laid plans. Choosing to let go of control and to see gardening as a process of helping new life unfold increases our sense of connection to the earth and helps teach us about our limitations.
Barbara Shorrock | Reprinted, with permission from a longer article By Elizabeth Miles, MSc, CPsych