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Therapeutic Benefits of Gardening

With springtime upon us and stores putting out their seedlings, vegetables and fresh young flowers, writing about some of the benefits of gardening seem fitting. Many people engage in gardening for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is simple to create more curb appeal to their home, others supply flowers to create more sustainable homesteads, some provide nourishment to bees and other creatures who need them, and some people just garden because they love it. Did you know there are some wonderful therapeutic and mental health benefits to gardening too? 

Horticulture as a treatment intervention has been around for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the 1940s and 50’s that it picked up steam with use and credibility. Rehabilitative care programs began to use horticulture therapy practice with hospitalized war veterans. A variety of professionals now use horticultural therapy techniques to assist participants in learning new skills, regaining some that were lost, improve memory, cognition, language, and socialization. There are some specifically designed therapeutic gardens that are helpful for sensory-orientation as well as just incorporating the healing elements of nature. This blog will specifically look at some of the mental health benefits to gardening.

Here are a few of the benefits: 

1. Sense of responsibility:

Gardening can provide one with a sense of responsibility as taking care of plants can add a sense of purpose, meaning and fulfillment. This gives a person a task that they are involved in, responsible for and in charge of, which can be very important if a person is struggling with feeling unfulfilled, lonely or just trying to find meaning in their life. Many horticulture programs have community gardens that can help increase social experiences. 

2. Nurturing:

Care-taking of any sort can provide us a sense of being nurturing to another living thing. This allows for one to nurture a plant and watch it grow. Many people enjoy starting from tiny seeds, watching them sprout into seedlings and eventually grow and bloom. The process allows people to really care and nurture something that will grow and succeed. Research has shown that providing support and nurturance can lead to reduced stress, increased happiness and feelings of connectedness. 

3. Focus and being in the present moment:

It may be surprising for some, but gardening can assist you in living in the present moment. It brings you to the here and now and as you focus on the activity at hand. It can increase your state of mindfulness. This also allows for a nice distraction away from everyday stressors and some people use it as a means to process and let go of unpleasant emotions. The activity also promotes interest and enthusiasm for the future as many want to see their plants grow and bloom. 

4. Gets you active and outdoors:

Gardening can get you active and take you outdoors to tend to plants and water. Many people find that just being outdoors, in the sunshine and fresh air can add a very healthy outlet in their life. Many school programs with children and even some agencies for the elderly bring in gardening as a means to teach as well as keep people active. Gardening can be hard physical work and lead to the development and improvement of motor skills and muscle coordination. It also allows for sensory experiences due to textures, colors, smells, etc., which can be helpful in stimulating the brain and responses of the person involved.

5. Brings about feelings of success:

Gardening can actually bring on improved confidence and self-esteem. When you plant those seeds in the fresh soil and you provide water and wait. Then you wait some more and suddenly you see the green sprouts. It’s fun and exciting and it gets even better when those green sprouts grow and grow and then, there are tomatoes, zucchinis or peppers hanging off your plant that began as that tiny little seed. Gardening brings on feelings of success, accomplishment, and pride. It feels good to work at something and have it bloom and grow. It is hard work and not everything is completely successful, but when you do put in dedication for something, it can bring on positive feelings.

Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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