Gardening benefits are numerous from exercise and calorie burn to producing wholesome food for the table but did you know that gardening can help you reduce your stress levels?
The Healing Garden or therapeutic garden is much more than herbs grown for beneficial teas or aromatherapy, it’s benefits include exercise, positive energy in creating something beautiful and being around the natural world. These gardens are found around the world and are usually designed specifically with the purpose of physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the people using the garden as well as their caregivers, family members and friends in mind.
Did you know that hospital patients which can see tress and gardens through a window recover faster than those who don’t?
A Bit About Me
I have always loved gardening. Big Granny always said it was in my blood and the land always brings to back to it.
Farming, gardening, military and fishing all form the makeup of my heritage.
Many people are like me working in a high stress environment in the corporate world. Exercise is taking the stairs rather then the elevator or walking the dogs. Commutes are long and arduous and taking care of yourself just didn’t even come into view.
Until something bad happens.
I started a new job which I adore and feel like I make a difference but I started getting sick and having trouble sleeping. It started with stomach issues, tummy aches, digestive problems, nausea. acid reflux, then came the headaches and finally blacking out.
I was stuck at home working because I couldn’t drive in case I was to pass out behind the wheel. Not a good time really since I’m the primary money earner in the family.
The doctor ordered tests, lots and lots of tests on my heart, on my head and a myriad of things in between but no assignable cause.
I firmly believe that all of this and more was caused by stress and depression.
Depression does strange things to you and maybe it’s the altitude I live and work in but there seems to be lots of other people I know and who I really care about who are also struggling with depression.
My depression came out of working in a difficult environment and feeling like I didn’t make a difference or that I could do anything right. I felt like the kid who was always in the wrong even when I tried to do everything right and by the books. It was compounded more by my new husband admitting to me he didn’t want children; which was something I would give the world for.
Finally, something changed.
My garden provides for my family and livestock. If feeds the chickens and gives us nutrient dense, organic produce but it is so much more than that.
I was out in the garden, harvesting tomatoes. The sunlight catching the wilting petals on the sunflowers which are bowing with the weight of the seed heads. The garden was alive with the hum of honeybees gathering nectar and pollen, the wind was rustling the maple tree which dropped seeds around me.
I walked around the garden, checking the squashes and looking for and other vegetables which were ready to be harvested and I realised that I was completely in the moment with the garden and with the creatures within it. I wasn’t having that niggling voice in the back of my mind reeling off the 101 other things I should be doing rather than checking the zucchini. I felt a release of all the anxiety and worry I had built up for months.
Working in the garden allows me to focus on the task at hand, to be together with nature and connect with the food I eat as well as how it is grown.
I now try to get out into the garden for at least 30 minutes each day to do a little bit here and there to maintain the garden but mostly to reduce stress.
I finally found peace; it was among the weeds and the sweet potatoes. I made the decision to give up on the dream of being a mother and to look at pursuing wholeheartedly my dream of owning some land and farming it sustainably and rearing rare-breed livestock.
My garden doesn’t just feed us, it makes others happy too. The neighborhood kids all love the sunflowers or picking the grapes on the other side of the fence. Friends love to be surprised with produce or something special we made and the chickens love the grasshoppers, earwigs or caterpillars we find.
Gardening Can Help
There are many benefits to gardening and gardens are being used as therapy around the world for a multitude of different reasons. From substance abuse to physiotherapy being in a natural setting has many benefits from reduced stress, exercise, reduced tension and even in some cases, faster healing and reduced medication however, nothing has been conducted in a formal clinical (or scientific) study. See the literature review: What is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly.
War veterans here in the US and in the UK have rehabilitation gardens to help heal post traumatic stress disorder and improve mental health. Dementia patients may benefit from a view of a garden to reduce tension and promote healing. Healing or therapy gardens can offer a social benefit to those who have become isolated thorough chronic illness, disabilities or mental health issues where people can come together and connect for support.
My friends are always welcome in my garden. It is a place of socializing; eating good food straight from the garden, drinking good beer we’ve brewed. It is a place of laughter and merriment, a warming fire and full bellies. A place where friends can talk through their troubles and find some resolution. It is a little bit of nature; chaotically organized, full of live and abundance.
Designing a healing garden
You can bring elements of the therapy gardens into your own home no matter if you have a large garden or a small patio with containers.
Plant a mixture of plants for your senses; colorful hues for your eyes, feathery grasses to touch and scented plants for smelling. This type of planting can also bring in beneficial insects like butterflies and bees as well as improving your wellbeing.
A seating area near or in the planting can help bring you closer to nature and is a great place to relax and enjoy a soothing tea or while away some time watching the butterflies and bees.
If you are growing as a backyard farm or urban homestead, try adding flowers and herbs to the vegetables you are planting or create an area where you can plant some herbs or wildflowers.
Since fall is well on the way here in Utah, it is giving me an opportunity to plan how my garden will change next season to be what we need it to be (productive and pretty) and how I can bring in more elements of a healing garden as well as a formal place to sit, relax and watch the bees at work.
Why do you garden? I’d love to know in the comments.