I have spoken before about the positive effects nature has on our mental health and general well being, particularly by means of escapism. There are however, other methods that are beneficial for our mental health, as well as our physical (and even financial) health. I am speaking of growing your own garden. This can be as small and as simple as an herb garden, or much bigger, including root vegetables and fruits. It is a humbling experience, so you may be wondering how gardening could have such a significant impact on your life.
Firstly, connectivity to nature: as already discussed in a previous article (Bourassa, 2016), our connection to nature is very important, as Erich Fromm suggested in his proposal of humans eight basic needs (Fromm, 1997). By planting seeds, digging through the dirt, and feeding the sprouting plants, you are forming a very intimate bond with nature. This connectivity to nature is imperative to our development, our understanding of what it means to be human, and our place in the world. It humbles us and shows us just how small we are, but also that that does not make us any less important. We begin to understand, to be a part of the life process – we take care of our plants like a mother would take care of a child, by feeding, watering, and caring for our plants. And through all of this, we watch them grow, producing more seeds, more buds, and growing a family of their own. As Moore states: “Life is a cycle of giving and taking,” (Moore, 1989), and this is felt through our providing for the garden, and the garden providing for us.
Sense of purpose
By growing your own garden, you are providing for you and your family, and contributing positively to the environment. Not only will you know where your food is coming from, and have peace of mind knowing that all the food grown in your garden will be free of pesticides. Your garden will also provide a food source for insects, birds and small animals. Most people will dislike this idea; after all, you are growing your garden for yourself. However, by allowing these animals and insects to eat from our gardens, we are actually providing for the ecosystem. This has positive effects on our minds as well, we feel as though we are contributing to the betterment of the environment, we are providing for our family and ourselves, and we are less stressed. Why are we less stressed? Partially because of the healing effects nature has on us, but also because we are no longer financially strained, purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs at the supermarket, and we are no longer mentally strained by choosing between the more expensive, and better produce, or the cheaper produce, that may have been grown with pesticides, and which may not be local.
The healing effects of nature
As previously mentioned in my article Walden III (Bourassa, 2016), the environment is a natural healer. Our brains need oxygen, which comes from trees, to survive. In the countryside, there are far more trees and plants. Further, our bodies, and our brains need the sun, and the vitamins it provides us to feel content and healthy. As Nall indicated in what are the benefits of sunlight, the sun helps in the moderation of mood through the activation of the neurotransmitter serotonin (Nall, 2015). Proper sunlight also decreases pain and improves sleep, (Doidge, 2015), which is closely related to the onset of depression and other mood disorders.
Moore states that “nature and gardening have helped to restore people to health through both the restful and quiet viewing of lovely gardens and the sunlight, fresh air, and moderate exercise offered by outdoor gardens” (Moore, 1989). Although Moore is speaking specifically of horticulture therapy, gardening in a non-therapeutic setting could certainly provide the same effects. Fieldhouse (2003), found that there are cognitive benefits in gardening, particularly enhanced mood, improved concentration and reduced arousal. Fieldhouse further found that this sort of intervention was beneficial because its focus was on skills and aspirations, instead of a persons symptoms or deficits (Fieldhouse, 2003). Although the focus of discussion was on gardening groups, these same benefits can be felt in individual gardening – the only aspect that is not present is being social.
Gardening has a multitude of benefits. One final benefit that I find especially important, due to it being absolutely essential to our development, is self-actualization. Gardening lays the groundwork for our physical health improving through better sleep, proper exposure to sunlight, and improved diet. It also improves our mental health by alleviating stress, improving our sleep, moderating our mood, and giving us a sense of purpose and connectivity. How does all of this relate to our ability to self-actualize? As I have said before, self-actualization cannot be achieved if we are focused on other needs (according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory), (Maslow, 1954). Gardening becomes a part of how we view ourselves; it connects us to nature and the environment around us. We engage in a give-take relationship; we become dependent on the environment and our garden becomes dependent on us. This of course gives us a sense of purpose, which contributes to our identity.
Gardening as a form of therapy has its merits, but gardening does not need to be structured in a therapy setting to have therapeutic effects. By gardening you not only have the privilege of eating your own produce and knowing where your food is coming from, you feel more connected to nature, are less stressed, and are more able to self-actualize, leading to better mental and physical health.
Bourassa, Taylor. (2016). Walden III. Retrieved from https://insidethecollectiveunconscious.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/walden-iii/
Doidge, N. (2015). The Brain’s Way of Healing. New York: Viking.
Fieldhouse, J. (2003) The impact of an allotment group on mental health clients’ health, well-being and social networking. British Journal of Occupational Therapy; 66: 7, 286–296.
Fromm, Erich. (1997). On Being Human. London: Continuum.
Maslow, Abraham. (1954). Motivation and Personality. Harper & Row, publishers.
Moore, B. (1989). Growing with Gardening: A Twelve-month Guide for Therapy, Recreation and Education. University of North Carolina Press: London.
Nall, R. (2015). What are the benefits of sunlight? http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#Overview1