The bright sun and fresh breeze means that summer is in full swing. And what’s better than spending an afternoon in the warm sunshine? There are many things to do on a beautiful day, but one activity may be more beneficial than you know.
Gardening promotes a healthy mind and body. From virtually nothing, a gardener makes life sprout and prosper. And the best thing is that it’s possible for anyone to take up gardening as a hobby. Even without a yard, all that’s needed is a pot, dirt, and some seeds to get started. Old or young, rich or poor, there’s a place for gardening in anyone’s home.
Gardening for emotional and mental benefits is a practice that goes back all the way to the 1800’s. Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that farming gave positive results patients with mental illnesses.
There may be naysayers saying that gardening isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Well, why then is gardening widely used as a therapeutic practice by professionals?
Horticultural therapy is the use of gardening and plant-based activities by trained therapists to meet therapeutic goals. There are many settings in which this type of therapy is used. Many drug rehab programs that utilize horticultural therapy. It is also used to help hospice patients cope with their illnesses.
NPR interviewed Travis Slagle, a Horticultural Therapy Association member, on the benefits of horticultural therapy. Slagle has recently used to practice to aid a program for troubled teens in Hawaii.
There are many ways that horticultural therapy is beneficial:
- During therapy, patients work with others in pursuit of a common goal. A sense of community is needed to successfully tend to the crops.
- Gardening calms nerves by reducing cortisol in the body, which causes stress.
- Gardening is a physical activity that promotes a healthy body. Being outdoors and moving around is great for those looking for fitness.
- For many people, especially drug addicts, the idea of long-term satisfaction has been replaced with instant gratification. Horticultural therapy promotes the idea of achieving long-term goals. It takes time and continuous effort for crops to grow successfully.
- Patients involved in gardening are accomplishing something. Those in drug rehab or hospice may have lost the hope in ever accomplishing something again. In gardening, there are real, tangible results to the effort put in.
In the face of any mental or emotional distress, it’s important to latch on to an aspect of reality. Too often, those struggling with stress, depression, and trauma experience an uncontrollable spiral that sucks the motivation out of the individual.
The cultivation of life through gardening is symbolic for anyone feeling like things won’t get better. Engaging in an activity like horticultural therapy reinforces the idea that effort is needed for things to get better.
When life gets dark, it can feel like any effort made is wasted, and that things never get better. That simply isn’t true. Through perseverance, support, and faith, life can and will improve. It just takes a little time and effort. Sometimes, just the small things like gardening make that fact known.