by Kimberly Burkard

Calendula, Solis Sponsa

Without a doubt you know the benefits of eating healthy, organic produce and using organically grown herbs. But did you ever stop to consider the benefits of growing your own and engaging in the act of gardening? There is no other activity that enriches your life and benefits your mind, body, and soul better than gardening.

1.) Gardening is good for the mind, body, and soul.

Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson used the term biophilia to describe his hypothesis that there is an underlying bond between humans beings and other living systems. He suggests that human beings innately seek connections with the rest of life. He proposed that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology. More than 800 years earlier the 12th century mystic, healer and philosopher, Hildegard von Bingen created the word veriditas to describe her vision of the greening power of Nature which was the divine force within all life. She described veriditas as the agent of God which was the animating life-force within all creation, giving it life, moisture and vitality. Regardless of whether it is divine or science, we are connected to and need the natural world around us.

It has been shown empirically that plants and gardens have a positive effect on human beings. In a study published in 1984 by Roger Ulrich Ph.D., he showed that gall bladder surgery patients recovered faster, went home sooner, complained less, and needed less pain medication when they had views of nature (trees, etc.) as compared to those that had a view of a brick wall. In a different study, researchers found that as little as three minutes of sitting in a place surrounded by greenery produced measurable reductions in stress. Other similar studies have produced similar results – human beings need the green and growing things. They make us whole and well.

Heirloom squash varieties

In our world of technology and supermarkets, where else but in the garden could you feel the natural rhythms of the seasons and get back in contact with the yearly cycle? I speak from personal experience when I say it is harder to feel those wintery blues when you realize that no matter how bad the winter you know spring will come. Everything has a season and the seasons change. Knowing that spring will come is an optimistic thing and there is nothing more optimistic than gardening. It is truly investing in and looking forward to the future. Besides looking to the future, gardening preserves the past. Gardening is an opportunity to connect to our greater family, our ancestors, through the seeds and knowledge that has been passed down to us from the dawning of human civilization. Research heirloom varieties of plants to truly connect to the plants of our ancestors. Read more at the Seed Savers Exchange.

Gardening is a creative, artistic process that gives outlet to those parts of you that are little used in the workplace. Gardening teaches us to slow down and it teaches us patience. In the garden our failures are only opportunities to learn and to get a second chance.

Gardens have not only been places of intellectual peace and stimulation. They have also been places of spiritual and religious importance down through the ages. Whether it was the Biblical Garden of Eden, the Islamic Paradise, the sacred groves of Diana and the Druids, the monastic gardens of Europe, or the Zen gardens of Japan, we find the garden in many of the world’s belief systems. It seems as though humans have innately connected the garden with the divine. Perhaps in the garden we will not only find health of body but our place in the universe and our connection to the divine.

2.) Gardening is good for those with special needs. Herb garden - echinacea, bee balm, feverfew

Gardening is even good for those that have physical or mental difficulties. There is a growing field of horticultural therapy. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association horticultural therapy is “the engagement of a person in gardening-related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals.” Horticultural therapy is used not only in physical rehabilitation but in cognitive therapy, vocational education settings, and to improve memory and social growth. Horticultural Therapy is gaining popularity in nursing homes, psychiatric and mental clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation programs, and correctional facilities.

3.) Gardening is good exercise.

Gardening is a moderate and sometimes strenuous exercise that incorporates elements of various exercise programs including: stretching, stance, repetition, movement, and resistance principles similar to weight training. Some have realized this great exercise power of gardening and have turned it into more formal exercise programs. The Green Gym in Britain is such a program. Below is a list of the calories burned while working in the garden. Note: these values are for a 30 minute time frame and for a 180 pound man. General rule of thumb, weigh more, burn more. Weigh less, burn less. [Figures per the National Gardening Association]

Herbs  from the garden

Bagging leaves – 162
Chopping wood – 243
Clearing land – 202
Digging, spading, tilling – 202
Gardening with heavy power tools – 243
General gardening – 202
Laying sod – 202
Mowing with a push mower – 243
Mowing with gas mower -182
Planing trees – 182
Planting seedlings – 162
Raking – 142
Riding mower – 101
Sitting quietly – 40
Sleeping – 36
Trimming shrubs, manual – 182
Trimming shrubs, power – 142
Turning compost – 250
Water lawn/garden – 61
Weeding – 182

Warner  Castle rose

4.) Gardening has very few disadvantages.

There are a few negatives – of which the most common are rashes, insect bites, sore muscles, an sunburn. All in all, the negatives are pretty minor stuff to deal with or avoid as long as you remember a few key things:

  • Protect yourself from the sun and biting insects
  • Protect yourself with proper clothing, gloves, and footwear
  • Never use chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Stretch, warm-up, cool-down, and drink lots of water
  • Vary your activities – break strenuous tasks (ex. shoveling) up with lighter tasks (ex: weeding). Stand up every so often if kneeling and so on.
  • Listen to your body – gardening isn’t a “no pain, no gain” activity. If it hurts, stop. Short periods of regular gardening is more beneficial than once a week 6-hour gardening marathon.
  • Check with your Doctor before starting any new fitness programs.

The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Personal medical advice should be obtained from a medical professional. This information is made available with the understanding that it is for educational purposes only and that the authors and publishers are not providing medical services. This information has not been evaluated or approved by the US FDA.

Photos and Article copyright Kimbery Burkard, 2009.