Learning Gardening, Again

Gardening – Could there be more to it than food fare and pleasant scents?

When I moved into the college dorm room I brought along my favorite clothes, posters, and my battered tennis racket. Just before leaving me to fend for myself, my mother waltzed in with something strange. A cactus plant. I eyed the sprawling green specimen with jagged edges and wondered. Why?

It turned out that my mother knew what she was doing. I did not kill the poor plant she had transferred to my care and I actually grew to enjoy its semblance of home. Fast forward to my first house. The squared off yard in the starter home didn’t quite look right for a while and I couldn’t figure out what was missing. When spring unfolded in pale green, yellows, and pinks all across the neighborhood, I immediately rushed out to get supplies for my first raised bed garden. My very own patch of something. 

The instinct was there. Growing up on a farm with a monstrous vegetable garden that fed us all year from the harvest, had taught me a thing or two. The surprising part is how I had hated the back breaking, sweaty, filthy part; especially as a teenager. Low and behold, here I was digging in the dirt again. With every move and change in life, I planted and tended plots trying each year to branch out further and expertly lay out a serious garden. My kids were doomed. I subjected them to planting, weeding, and harvesting while my mother watched on, with a soft smile. 

Now that I look back at the milestones and events of my life, I can firmly attest to the mental and physical health benefits of gardening. When I found myself out of sorts in a new part of the country, I constructed a garden. When my life changed drastically in the blink of an eye, I distracted myself in a sea of vines and stalks. When I lost the dearest of all, my mother, I pushed through with the rows and sections feeling her strength as I tolled away. No matter what I plant since that time, I include a plot of zinnias just for her. 

Beyond all the memories and produce I’ve collected, there is evidence beyond my hunch that growing and nurturing plants is good for us. Multiple studies suggest that our participation in gardening reduces anxiety and depression and increases social functioning for those involved in community garden plots. In general, adults benefit from meaningful work, sharing produce, and the time spent in nature. Adolescents benefit from nature study and gardening with increased attention, emotional stability, and resiliency. Children are noted to benefit from lessons in all these areas, as well as delayed gratification and overall fun watching something develop before their very eyes. For what it’s worth, I believe tending the land, learning about nature, overcoming the distress of raccoons eating my corn or rain molding my cucumbers, and standing back to admire a fully grown mammoth sunflower is excellent therapy.

This spring, without thinking really, I went to visit my daughter in her apartment. You’ll never guess what I brought her.

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