Vegetable Gardening as Therapy.

Gardening is more than a hobby; it’s a scientifically proven anti-depressant.  No wonder you like to dig in the dirt.  And now –  I mean, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Covid 19 – but, it’s kind of doing a number on everyone’s mental state.  Whether they know it or not.

Very large garden full of raised beds with cedar mulch pathways, blonde woman crouched with wicker basket gathering lettuce.

Vegetable gardening is my therapy. I don’t mean that in a lighthearted, print it on a tee shirt with a picture of a dancing beet kind of way. I mean, for real, no joke, gardening is my therapy.

Some people will look at this photo and all they’ll see is work.  Others?  Just looking at a garden calms us.

I can’t even explain to you how or why gardening is therapeutic for me. It just is.  I go to my garden and I feel better. Even if I’m already feeling pretty good.  It doesn’t make any difference what I’m doing there. I could be weeding, lugging soil, building planter beds or just walking around to check on things … they all make me feel … better.

A whole GROUP of people who love to garden.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Gardening (vegetable or not) is proven to be an effective method of improving mental health. There are genuine scientific reasons for this, like the fact that gardening reduces stress by decreasing the production of cortisol. I have no idea why this is such a good thing but it is. Scientific people, who wear lab coats and stuff, say so.

Gardening Gets Us Out of Our Heads.

Apparently, gardening in a community garden is especially good for anyone who has anxiety, depression or emotional pain. This is because gardening forces us to focus on the external world; things like dirt, bugs, the sun, and seeds.  This, as opposed to internal things like worries, pain, and what to watch next on Netflix.

Gardening is Exercise

Community gardening also brings us together with other people (being social has huge mental health benefits) and gets us exercising, which is a mood enhancer unless the exercise you’re doing is running, which everyone knows is the number 3 torture technique in the world falling just behind watching someone eat pizza when you can’t have any, and listening to a child play the recorder.

40' x 40' community garden plot seen from above courtesy of a drone.

If you haven’t seen it before, this is my 40′ x 40′ community mental health facility.  I mean garden.

Gardening is officially one of the best things you can do for your mental health. The only people this isn’t true for, are people who genuinely hate gardening. You know, weirdos.

Tranquil shot of gardener's hand holding sprinkler, watering large vegetable garden in the late afternoon.

But really.  What IS it that is so relaxing about gardening?  Why does it  make us feel good? For me I know a lot of it has to do with being outside.  I did a bit of research into this and found the same quote over and over again.

“Nature Calms Us.”

O.K.  Fine.  But WHY does nature calm us.  Why nature and not … an Ikea warehouse for example?

I gave it a lot of thought and I think I have one of the answers.

We can’t control nature.  We can’t budge it, change it or buy it.   If you’re in your house your thoughts are probably  bouncing around from “I need to do laundry” to “I want to try the couch against the other wall” to “Why does everyone leave their shoes directly in front of the door?”.  These are all things you feel like you need to deal with at some point.

That doesn’t happen in nature.  You’re rendered … decisionless.  When’s the last time you went on a walk in the forest or a field and decided it needed a little rearranging.  Maybe a row of Billy bookcases.  It isn’t an option so you don’t even think about it. In nature you completely give up control.  And the need to control things is what causes a LOT of stress. Giving up that control is incredibly calming.

 

Of course in vegetable gardening you’re constantly trying to control everything from bugs to blight but that ruins my point so let’s ignore that.

Gardening is Nurturing.

 

Gardening at its most basic level is taking care of living things that don’t barf on you.  Win win.  This makes gardening especially good for people who don’t have pets, kids or spouses around to take care of.  It’s human nature to nurture things.  And then eat them.  With butter.

If you’ve always wanted to start a garden, not necessarily on the scale I do it, but just to putter. One garden bed or instance. Or a planter of herbs by your door. This is the year, above all others, that you should do it.

And now – is the time to start planning it.

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Vegetable Gardening as Therapy.

128 Comments

  1. Phil says:

    I was wondering if you celebrate the holiday on the first Saturday in May, and if you do will there be a photo blog?

  2. Sophia Karen Ackuaku says:

    Vegetable Gardening is the best therapy so far. I have my vegetable garden which brings income to support my family reduces my stress drastically and also help me exercise every morning and evening by bending to remove weeds and standing to walk around and check on my organic vegetables that are more healthier. Vegetable garden is the best 👌

  3. ijo says:

    Some people will look at this photo and all they’ll see is work

  4. Shelley B says:

    I started my first garden last March. I live in Houston, so I can garden year-round and I’m really enjoying it. With two teens and a tween, I really enjoy nurturing something that doesn’t talk back. :)

  5. Leslie Barnard says:

    I was born in Manhattan, NY and lived there till I was 25. Every day I walked the two and a half blocks to Central Park (where you really did not want to be alone after dark in the late 60’s to early 80’s). That was my garden. I cut school and went to the park. Saturdays and Sundays I went to the park. No matter what the weather was (inside of me or outside) I went to the park. I think that park saved me. So, Karen, I think you make an excellent point. We absolutely need nature around us. Even better if we get our hands in the dirt and invite things to grow!

  6. Sanjoy Das says:

    You’re exactly right Karen, which is a hell of a coincidence. Gardening starts of by realising you have to take responsibility for this piece of ground, which might mean moving plants which are quite happy to be growing there. Then there is the battle with the weeds, which is a battle you can win simply by perseverance and redefining what winning is. And then you come to realise that you cant succesfully grow plants that need huge amounts of sunshine in the halflight which is a scottsh summer, you are much better off growing potatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale etc. and lots of pretty flowers. Don’t kid yourself you can bend Nature to your will, its the same as usual, do your best and then see what happens. and thats a good rule of thumb in all aspects of life and might keep you sane.

  7. Kat O says:

    Yes to all of this! It’s making my heart pitter-patter thinking about starting seeds later this month! Although…I actually DO take walks in our woods sometimes and think that they need some rearranging, since much of our property is full of invasive species (multiflora rose, honeysuckle, winged euonymus…). So the land management piece can sometimes be a little anti-therapy, but it’s nothing compared to the joy and wonder I get 99% of the time.

  8. Petra says:

    Whenever I spend a warm summer evening in my tiny paradise I know that in spite of every stupid mistake, every miserable little tragedy, every dumb failure or bad decision…in spite of all that I have managed to land in a very happy place and life is beautiful after all.

  9. Barb says:

    oh, yes! The best feel in the world is soil with a good tilth ( love that word!) in my hands, the ease with which those little weeds ( and the ones bigger than my neighbour’s children) pull out, Add the warmth from the soil, the pleasure of a tidy bed, shredded garden debris mulch( and the joy of running that shredder!) , the garden is the best place to be. It has helped me survive cancer, a life threatening health event, marriage(with step-children),whole house renovations and a 35 year career as an emergency RN (aka where people barf on me) I have solved world problems and more importantly, my own, by being in the garden.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Why do people leave their shoes right in front of the door???

  11. Heather says:

    Can’t thank you enough for getting me into veggie gardening. I LOVE IT! I told you once before my garden is my cathedral. Can’t wait to get worshipping again.

  12. Teresa says:

    It was -18 degrees (Fahrenheit) this morning so the therapeutic value of this post was undeniable- just a bit of visual proof that there are days to come where my garden is green, the earth has a smell, and I can go outside without wondering if my eyeballs can freeze.

  13. Vikki says:

    Years ago, when I worked in a high-rise in the financial district of a metropolitan area, my house was filled with plants. I realized that when it had ben a horrible, terrible, really bad day I would stop on the way home and buy a house plant. I wasn’t able to have a real garden outside but this certainly filled a mental and emotional need. I think in the future they will discover that green growing things give off pheromones, or telepathic messages, or ? that calm us. I still can’t get enough of plants or digging in the dirt.

  14. celestial says:

    I love love LOVE the comment about “caring for living things that don’t barf on you.” That is why I garden, period. Flowers don’t talk back, run away from home, have crummy girlfriends or drink too much alcohol. There is always something new to learn, to grow, to weed, to wonder about.

    I have to say that your garden is truly the closest thing to a piece of artwork that I have ever seen. Wow, just wow. I cannot grow vegetables because herds of deer sneak in and eat them, but flowers and shrubs and grasses will be my go to forever.

  15. Susan Mercurio says:

    I lived in a house for adults with mental illness (mine are depression and PTSD – with the written agreement that I could have gardens on the property.
    Not only is it therapy for me, it’s also a way for me to exercise and get sunshine for Vitamin D.
    The management fought me at every turn. They had their work crew pull my plants out of the ground. And they COULDN’T understand that you can’t control nature: you do things on Mother Nature’s schedule or not at all.
    And, as the judge eventually said, they were violating the lease because the owner had agreed in writing that I could garden there.

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