For centuries, gardening has been apart of our lives. If it wasn’t to feed the household, it has been a hobby to bring the mind peace. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or are considering starting your own garden, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the many benefits of this relaxing activity.
Who knows, you may just take the leap to grab a houseplant for your desk after learning about the benefits interacting with nature can have on your mental health.
What Are the Benefits of a Garden?
Today, we do not need to grow our own food to support the household. Gardening can be looked at in a leisurely light, but still, it is a part of our culture and livelihood to interact with these plants.
It’s not just gardeners themselves who agree that a garden provides a wide range of benefits, from improving mental health to providing a source of fresh produce. Scientists have found tangible benefits to our bodies and mental state.
Best of all, when we garden with native plants, not only are the plants more resilient, but the ecosystem becomes a little healthier because of your efforts.
A garden doesn’t have to be developed around food or herbs. A garden can be any arrangement of plants, whether you’re looking to create a pollinator garden, enhance the appearance of your lawn (pristine, short-cut turfgrass is sooo 1850s) or plant for ecological success and restore surrounding habitat relationships.
To Care for a Garden, You Must First Care for Yourself
If there’s anything people neglect in today’s world, it’s self-care. In an attempt to remember your human relationship with nature, it’s hard not to start taking care of yourself.
To truly care for a garden, it takes a lot of work. Now, native plants are much more resilient than that others, which means they won’t need pesticides or tons of fertilizer, but you also have to un-do a lot of the damage done to the habitat.
As you first start gardening with native plants, you’ll see the power vacuum in action, as invasive plants try to take over the open space. This means you’ll need to learn about invasive plants in your area and start identifying them in your own backyard. (iNaturalist is a great tool you can download onto your phone for this)
Learning about plants is an incredibly rewarding, fun experience – not only can you walk outside an immediately begin applying your knowledge hands-on, but you’ll start learning about how plants interact with the ecosystem around them as well, allowing you to dive into a new hobby that helps you stay mentally sharp and express yourself artistically.
The self-care benefits don’t stop at taking care of yourself mentally. To manage a garden of any kind, you’ll also need to apply it, which means staying fit and taking care of your physical health. Getting out to the gym or doing yoga in your living room suddenly has a purpose, keeping you fit and able to enjoy the space. You’ll also need to fuel your body, which means staying hydrated and eating healthier to keep up your energy in the garden.
Lowered Stress and Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that gardening doesn’t just help you take care of yourself, but it also has other tangible benefits that will be most evident once you try it out for yourself. These benefits range from lowering stress and blood pressure, to providing relief from negative emotions, effectively providing a form of anger management. (1, 2)
Many studies have even demonstrated positive effects on health and healing timeline by ensuring patients have access to viewing a natural landscape. (3) While this is only recently becoming an area of study between human-plant interactions in the last few decades, it’s centuries-old wisdom that research is just turning its attention to with surprising results.
You don’t have to create an especially cultivated or pristine garden to get these benefits; simply viewing the plants helps. Fortunately for those of us stuck at the desk all day, this means you can take a gander at the houseplant next to your computer for some of the benefits, too.
Improved Mental Health and Emotional Regulation
Gardening is a great way to improve your mental health and emotional regulation, which is something that we all start to struggle with after an extended period indoors or ignoring our own emotional needs. (4) There’s no secret that humans are incredibly emotional organisms, so why would we try to deny ourselves that expression on a regular basis?
“Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements”
Getting outdoors helps remove some of the pressures that we experience on a daily basis, calming the mind and bringing a sense of peace to a cluttered mind. The act of planting, nurturing, and watching plants grow can also provide a growing sense of accomplishment, control, and stability that is important for emotional regulation. This sense of purpose and direction can help anyone struggling with depression and anxiety.
Increased Bodily Function, Because We’re Just Plants
It’s true, we’re just complicated, oxygen-consuming plants. In reality, we need to “photosynthesize” just as much as a plant does.
Now, we don’t have chloroplasts and we don’t need to photosynthesize to get our energy, and we certainly don’t produce our own stores of energy from the sun’s energy. What we do have, however, is an inherent need to be in the sunlight to supplement our vitamin D levels.
While you look at greenery in your backyard, don’t be afraid of getting a little sun. Bask in it and let yourself enjoy the moment, and you’ll come out feeling happier than you did before.
Vitamin D is a great way to improve mood and, over time, improve bone strength. You’ll find you have a lot more energy and improved function than you did without a little bit of photosynthesis time!
Boosts Creativity and Productivity
There is some evidence that supports the idea, as well. Some sources claim that plants boost creativity levels in the workspace up to 15%.
This means that if you want to have a fun and engaging workplace, you need to load every desk up with plants. The idea behind this is that plants allow workers to feel more comfortable and relaxed in their space. Once you aren’t so stressed during worktime, it does indeed leave you with more room to explore your creative side!
Overall, the act of creating and designing a garden requires a certain level of creativity and imagination. Even using native plants and designing an ecologically-sound habitat, you must still decide which plants to buy, choose the right colors to attract native pollinators, and create a diverse hierarchy from underbrush to canopy. There is a lot of artistic creativity that the process requires, and exercising those mental muscles will lead to even greater creative gains!
Creates Opportunity for a Stronger Immune System
Studies have shown that spending time in nature helps your immune system. (5) Not only that, but the more biodiverse that habitat is, the stronger benefit it provides to your body. Unfortunately, while preliminary results for this type of study are promising, there’s little funding around it.
“According to the synthesis of the studies included in this review, nature exposure supports immunological homeostasis and might offer promising strategies for therapeutic and preventive clinical use. However, there is a lack of studies that rigorously address questions of selectivity, effectivity or adverse effects deriving from nature exposure, let alone providing mechanistic pathway analyses or a solid calculation of effect sizes.”
Multiple studies have tackled this area of research with promising results but science is not something that advances with the efforts of one single individual, which can make it difficult in an under-funded area of study. Other research has shown positive implications in providing hospitals with foliage to speed up recovery times of patients recovering from surgery.
Whether this will lead to institutional change about how we treat plants in an urban environment is yet to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: you have the power to make a change in your own backyard.
Provides a Sense of Satisfaction and Empowerment
Gardening is a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. In this space, you can take control of the environment and create something beautiful and functional.
Growing food can be an extremely rewarding experience, even if you’re not looking to feed yourself. Planting native plants and restoring the local ecosystem can help provide pollinators and wildlife with valuable food and shelter materials. When ecosystem relationships are in the process of mending, it can be a messy experience.
When those relationships begin to heal and are finally restored, however, everything in the ecosystem begins to work like an elaborate dance. Restoring these connections and watching your efforts bring new life to the landscape is one of the most rewarding feelings of empowerment and positive change that you can experience.
Key Takeaway: Get Outside and Get Dirty
All it takes is getting outside and being willing to get dirty. You’ll make mistakes along the way – we all do – and it may take you a little bit to figure out what you most enjoy about the experience of gardening.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
Right now, you are looking at the beginning of a new journey ahead full of self-empowerment and better health.
No matter who you are, or what you do for a living, you have the ability to change the world one tiny piece of land at a time.