I grew up on a farm and have enjoyed both the outdoors and seeing things grow. As a kid, I would get home from school and take my dog for a hike in the 40 acres woodlot that was part of our farm. This early exposure to nature shaped my later life as an ecologist and biologist. My mother was a talented, excellent gardener and she fostered my love of growing food and flowers.
Recently, gardening projects have been started as a healthy way of connecting children with the environment as schools have added gardening to their curricula. Teaching math and science along with the practical aspects growing food is a hands-on dynamic approach to learning that connects children with soil and plants.
If you google either Gardening or Nature and Health, you will get lots of articles on how being in a natural environment or a garden is good for one’s health. Here are just three examples and excerpts: Why gardening is good for your health - CNN.com, “Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.” How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal Scientific American- “ Just three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety and pain and to induce relaxation, according to various studies of healthy people that measured physiological changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart and brain electrical activity.”
Petal Power: Why Is Gardening So Good For Our Mental Health, “when we exercise levels of serotonin and dopamine (hormones that make us feel good) rise and the level of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress), is lowered. It’s true that a session in the garden can leave you dead on your feet, but it can also get rid of excess energy so you sleep better and ultimately feel renewed inside.”
Likewise if you google recidivism rates in prison populations as affected by horticulture and gardening, you will also find many articles touting how gardening has positive effects. Here is what one academic review paper had to say about mental health aspects. “Prison gardening programs were shown to enhance incarcerated individuals’ psychosocial wellbeing in three key ways: 1) increase in self-efficacy and self-worth, 2) decrease in anxiety and depression spectrum symptoms, and 3) reduction in recidivism rates.”
Fortunately I have never had a prison experience, but I have experienced all my life the mental and physical benefits of gardening. There is value in learning early the responsibility of nurturing plants and being connected to other living things. Gardening is also mentally challenging. There is a lot to know and learn about the thousands of plants and seeds available to the gardener today and all the aspects of managing their environments so they prosper. You never run out of learning possibilities and challenges.
Most of our life is spent interacting with other humans, so it is restful to spend time with plants and pets far from the maddening crowds—which works well for me. About 99 percent of our time on earth as a species was spent in a truly natural environment in small groups of perhaps 40 humans. The age of civilization and living in cities is only one percent of species history and the existence of very large cities has happened just since 1800. As recently as the 1930’s Depression, fifty percent of our population lived on farms growing most of their own food. Presently 63 percent live in urbanized, artificial environments which can be very stressful. Gardens provide a break from the stresses of modern life and a chance to reconnect soil and plants.
Thomas Jefferson said it well in 1813, “I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well-watered and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, someone always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one through the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table, I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/