Friday, January 20, 2017

Why Garden?

Bristol Borough Community Garden, Bucks County, ©2016 Kathleen Connally
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

Last summer I saw this quote on a local garden center sign.  I was impressed by its simple yet profound meaning. How many of us have planted seeds and waited for those first leaves to emerge? This is an affirmation that there will be a tomorrow and we will be around to see it.

A sense of well-being is one of the benefits of gardening. Senior citizen centers and community living facilities utilize garden clubs and gardening to improve the lives of their residents, including those who suffer from dementia and depression.  A recent experiment published in the Journal of Health Psychology compared the stress-relieving benefits of gardening to those of reading; however a more significant decrease in stress was experienced by those who gardened.  So how about reading in our gardens for maximum benefit?  Sounds like a bonus activity.  For me, gardening produces a sense of accomplishment.  Feeling accomplished and connected is especially important for retired seniors who no longer have their professional lives to instill self-worth.

Gardening can also help people reach fitness goals. Gardening is considered a moderate-to-heavy intensity physical activity and has been linked to beneficial changes in total cholesterol and reducing blood pressure (Armstrong, 2000).  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports only 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity level activity per week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death.  Even a few plants in containers or a small raised bed can demand enough attention to fulfill 2 ½ hours of physical activity per week.  I am not proposing that gardening is a total substitute for exercise, but an afternoon in the garden can produce plenty of sore muscles!

Anyone who has planted a vegetable garden knows the joy of picking fresh vegetables and eating them raw, or cooking them same day.  The taste is incredible and nutrition is at its peak.  Growing your own food also gives an opportunity to know where your food comes from and if pesticides or insecticides were used to produce them.  Plus, if we go to the trouble to plant, care for and harvest our own fresh fruit and vegetables we tend to eat more of them.  Don’t be afraid to mix herbs and flowers with your vegetables in containers and gardens.  Flowers add color and possibly some insect or animal deterrent properties to your garden; herbs can be a healthy way to add flavor and color to your meal.

Gardening can also be a way to get our kids away from their electronics and become engaged in helping to grow their own food. Studies have shown that kids involved in growing and preparing food are more likely to try new foods.  My love of gardening began working beside my father in our vegetable garden and helping my mother in her flower beds, some of my fondest childhood memories.

Don’t have the space to garden outside?  Taking care of a few houseplants is still beneficial. Many plants, such as Snake Plant (Sanseveria), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aures) have been shown to improve air quality in our homes.

Community gardening is even being used in many urban areas to combat crime.  Replacing abandoned lots with communal gardening plots gets residents outside to interact with neighbors. Scientific studies show that crime decreases as the amount of green space increases. 

If gardening is of significant benefit to our health and welfare, a better question might be: Why not garden?

Resource: Harriet Cooper The Dirt on Gardening, MSU Extension, What are the physical and mental benefits of gardening?, Multiple Benefits of Community Gardening

- Written by Bucks County Master Gardener Joan Pavlica