Research has shown that spending time outside is good for our bodies and our minds. I'm sure you've experienced these benefits: After feeling stressed out or bored inside, you step outside and your spirits lift.
One great way to spend time outdoors is to garden. My grandmother always had a garden when I was a kid, and now I understand more about what made her love it. I've always enjoyed being outside and gardening, but it took on special significance for me when I was recovering from a serious bout of my chronic illness. As I began to recover, I felt compelled to greatly expand my garden beds and the things I planted, even though I was still struggling physically and mentally.
The experience seemed to accelerate my own healing. It felt like even as I was building the garden, it was helping me come back to life. One day as I stood in the afternoon sunlight and looked with amazement at all that had grown, I felt my own strength that had returned over the same stretch of time.
This personal experience, along with numerous studies about the positive effects of time outside, made me curious to explore the many benefits of gardening.
Here are 10 benefits of gardening:
1. Practicing Acceptance
Most of our suffering comes from trying to control things that we can't. The more we can accept the limits of our control and the unpredictability of life, the more peace of mind we can find—and gardening is a great way to practice. "Every day is one more reminder from Mother Nature that I'm not in control,"
Acceptance in the garden or elsewhere doesn't mean giving up, of course. We bring our best efforts to what we can control, and we let go of the rest. With gardening that means preparing the best environment, you can possibly make for your plants, and allowing nature to take it from there. Your garden (like your life) is in bigger hands than yours.
2. Moving Beyond Perfectionism
If you're prone to perfectionism, you're probably well aware of the costs. Trying to make things perfect can lead to frustration, missed deadlines and opportunities, and strained relationships. It can also lead to not even trying to do something, with a mentality of "why bother if it can't be perfect?" Given the lack of control we have, gardening can be a good antidote for perfectionism. No matter how carefully you plan and execute your garden, there are countless factors you can't predict—invasions by bugs, inclement weather, hungry rodents.
Gardening offers an endless supply of these kinds of neutralizers for perfectionism.
3. Developing a Growth Mindset
The inability to garden perfectly is actually cause for celebration. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the distinction between "fixed" and "growth" mindsets, and gardening is a great opportunity to develop the latter. With a growth mindset, we assume that we're constantly learning. When something doesn't work out the way we had hoped, we view it as a learning opportunity rather than as a "failure."
We can even look forward to our mistakes. You can learn to love making mistakes because it gives you an opportunity to look at them as a chance to learn something new. Through those mishaps, you can understand what happened and why, and you can be empowered to relate that learning to new things. So more mistakes just mean more learning and more growing.
4. Connecting with Others
Few things boost our well-being like good relationships, and gardening offers ample opportunities to connect with others. Gardening is one of the best ways to connect with strangers and quickly become friends because we have that gardening thing in common.
I've experienced that quick connection myself when meeting other gardeners, and there's so much to talk about—not only the nuts and bolts of gardening but the emotional and spiritual connections we can experience with our gardens.
5. Connecting to Your World
Gardening provides a connection not just to other people but to our world. Many people feel that connection in a visceral way when they eat food they've just harvested. We all have an innate connection to the earth and that connection manifests itself when we consume what came from the ground—which is where we came from and where we all end up.
Having a garden really means having a relationship with the plot of ground you're tending. Since I've gotten more into gardening I've had to be much more aware of the elements: the first and last frosts of the season, how much rain we've had, the temperature, and where sunlight falls throughout the day. Gardening also connects us intimately with the cycle of the seasons.
It's easy to feel "like a parent" to one's growing plants. You nurture the seedlings and do everything you can for them and then it's like you're putting your babies in the soil —much as we might nurture a young child who eventually heads out to meet the world. They don't call it a 'nursery' for nothing!
6. Bathing in Green
The Japanese expression "shinrin-yoku" can be translated as "forest bathing," which nicely captures the experience of being immersed in green. A growing body of research has found all kinds of benefits from being in natural landscapes.
These studies have found evidence that being in green, or even being able to look out on a green landscape, is linked with better recovery from surgery, less anxiety and depression, better stress management, and many other positive effects.
The nice thing about a garden is that it can be right out your back door. And while you could just as easily spend time sitting in your yard, you're much more likely to be outside consistently when the work of a garden requires it.
7. Being Present
Mindful presence is tied to a long list of positive outcomes, like relationship satisfaction and less emotional reactivity. The garden can be a protected place where we practice being where we are and actually doing what we're doing.
I often find that centering effect in my own garden. Just last night after heavy rain I sat in my garden in the dying light of the day and took in what was around me. It was striking how quickly I felt a sense of ease.
8. Physical Exercise
Moving your body regularly is an effective way to boost mood and lower anxiety, and gardening offers no shortage of opportunities for physical activity. Even when he's not able to get to the gym consistently, he maintains muscle tone and feels good through daily work in his garden.
The movements are varied, too, which may mean fewer repetitive use injuries compared to more structured exercise.
9. Reducing Stress
Not surprisingly, time in your garden can be a great way to release stress. There's something about feeling the life all around you, the warmth of the sun, the soil in your hands. As I sit in my own garden these days I see zucchini and lettuces shaking in the wind, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries ripening, and feel the breeze as clouds move across the blue sky.
10. Eating Healthfully
Last but not least, a garden can yield the freshest and healthiest foods available—the types of food that can have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, two studies showed that dietary changes can be an effective treatment for depression.
Studies in this area tend to find benefits of the "Mediterranean" (and similar) diet, which emphasizes consuming minimally processed whole foods—exactly the types of food that your garden will yield. Plus there's the added benefit of knowing you played a role in growing the food.