The Health Benefits of Gardening

Planting a seed is an investment in the future of both your garden and your emotional health.

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Posted in , May 8, 2017

The health benefits of gardening

If you were told an activity could reliably provide “affective restoration from stress,” would you try it? Of course you would! And if you were told the recommended activity was gardening, you might even feel your levels of cortisol—the hormone that surges when your body has an inflammatory response to stress—going down just at the mere suggestion.

Each and every time I go into my garden, I have at least one moment of first-hand connection to the body of research that shows the health benefits of gardening—to cite just one, the study that mentioned “affective restoration from stress” found that just 30 minutes of outdoor gardening lowered cortisol levels more than the same amount of time spent reading. 

Planting seeds is one of the most stress-reducing garden activities, in my opinion. Here in New England, May is sowing season, when we gently press seeds into the ground with a hopeful eye on a summer filled with growing beauty and nourishment.

Read More: How to Dwell in the Positive

After perusing the seed racks at my local garden center this year, I chose a colorful lettuce blend, peppery arugula, fresh dill, “dinosaur” kale, colorful Swiss chard and vibrant purple string beans for the raised beds and pots in my back yard. A few more warming weeks from now, I’ll add basil to the mix. 

Indoor gardening of any sort not being my strong suit, I go for seeds I can sow directly into the just-warm-enough soil. The action of making a furrow, spacing out my seeds, and—a habit I got into a few years ago—sprinkling on some extra seeds just for luck relaxes me in a way I’m sure would show up on a lab test to measure cortisol.

There are many pleasures in sowing seeds. Picking out seed packets at the garden center opens up my world to new flavors and colors. Choosing where to locate each type of seed starts to give shape and order to my winter-rested garden. And gently patting the seeds safely into their new beds feels grounding—literally—and hopeful all at once. 

There’s a saying from the Midrash, the Jewish commentary on the Torah, that I’ve always loved—“Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’” I am no angel, but I do have the power to whisper over my seeds each spring, reveling in the joy and hope that as I sow, so shall I reap.

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