This week’s article is written by Maggie Cooper, wife and best friend of regular columnist Jay Cooper.
As reported on Health.com, “Gillian Aldrich started growing vegetables in her backyard three years ago, and she’s now working on planting a bed of hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, and — her favorite — pale-pink hardy geraniums along one side of her property. As she digs in the garden, her 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son often play around her, sometimes taking a break to dig for worms or pick strawberries. Instead of watching them, Aldrich is playing, too — ‘my kind of play,’ she says. ‘When you sit at a desk all day, there’s something about literally putting your hands in the dirt, digging and actually creating something that’s really beautiful,’ says Aldrich, 42, a magazine editor in Maplewood, New Jersey. ‘There’s something about just being out there that feels kind of elemental.’ Aldrich isn’t the only one who feels this way. Many gardeners view their hobby as the perfect antidote to the modern world, a way of reclaiming some of the intangible things we’ve lost in our busy, dirt-free lives.”
When I read this article, it really resonated with me. Years ago when Jay and I were both caught up in the Corporate world, we were high strung, stress cases, always dealing with the next crisis in the company and putting our personal lives in second place on the priority list. When we moved to Utah — unlike the hot and parched desert of Arizona, we found Tooele to be a friendly place to take up the hobby of gardening. The more we got outside and began to improve our place, the more we found that not only did we improve the landscape of our property, we found calmness, creativity and contentment inside of ourselves from our gardening endeavors. Another amazing gift from our entrance into the world of gardening has been the people we’ve met along the way. I would describe the typical gardener I know as kind, hardworking, unshaken by failure and humble when success comes their way. They would give you the shirt off their back and their shoes too. They are helpful, highly capable and remarkably unremarkable. I am honored to know each and every one of them.
As also reported on Health.com, a recent study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing, leisure activities. After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
I think it has a lot to do with what’s happening in our minds when we garden. It doesn’t take a great deal of concentration to pull weeds or mow the grass. While our body does the task, our mind can relax and wander to many places. I find myself humming every time I’m propelling my riding lawnmower around our place. My mind is not really thinking about anything more stressful than getting close enough to the flowerbed to get the tall grass without taking out the tulips. I get creative and start imagining a new flowerbed over there or how a low rock wall would enhance the area around the fire pit.
There is also a since of accomplishment with gardening — finishing a job or at least making a tangible change in how the landscape looks. It could be as simple as cleaning weeds out of a bed. The way the bed looks after you are finished is so satisfying. In our world today, rarely are projects completed. I remember working part-time as a food server when our kids were little. I loved that job because I went to work, worked hard and when I was done, I went home. I didn’t have to answer emails or worry about the profit that was made or not made that day after I got home. I worked, I got finished and I left.
“We live in a society where we’re just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention,” says Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois.
“Humans have a finite capacity for the kind of directed attention required by cell phones and email and the like,” Taylor says, “and when that capacity gets used up we tend to become irritable, error-prone, distractible, and stressed out.”
We have to give our brains a break from the constant mental stimulation we get everyday from work and electronic devices as well as the hectic schedules we keep.
Health.com also pointed out that some research suggests that the physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia. Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, and found that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. The combination of both physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind. The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden are said to promote relaxation and reduce stress. I can attest that this assumption is true because I’ve experienced it personally.
You may say, “I know nothing about gardening and I don’t have a clue about how to begin.“ I say, begin with a potted plant. Some people think they can’t grow anything because they have killed every plant they have ever had. In reality, they just haven’t taken the time to understand how a plant survives. Plants are a lot like people.
First of all, they need space. When a small child first starts to wear shoes, will they wear the same size shoes for the rest of their life? As they grow, their shoe size will get bigger. As a plant grows, they grow more and more root material in the soil that has to go somewhere. Repotting a plant into a larger pot is like helping a child grow up.
Secondly, plants need water — just like humans. But we can’t drink gallons and gallons of water per day without causing ourselves harm. Plants need water too but not to the point of drowning. Test the soil with your finger to see if it’s still moist or is dry before watering. Yes, put your finger into the soil — you can wash it. Then you can experientially understand how much water your plant needs. The soil should be damp but not soaked.
Thirdly, plants need sunlight. This is where you need to understand the kind of plant you have and what its needs are. We all know there are house plants and plants that grow outside. These types of plants require different degrees of sunlight. You can educate yourself online regarding what your particular plant needs.
Fourth, plants need more than just water, they also need nutrition. Because your plant is in a pot it cannot leach minerals from the soil around it. Understanding what kind of fertilizer to use on your plant will keep it healthy.
So you don’t need a big backyard or a green thumb to become a gardener. All you need is interest and the desire to learn. And you don’t have to do it alone. There is a whole community of amazing people in our Valley who will come alongside you and help you on your journey. Watch the Happening Section of this paper for gardening classes and events and, come on, take the plunge to become a gardener. You won’t be sorry.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.