Gardening as Therapy

For many of us, gardening seems to soothe the spirit. You might not be surprised to hear, then, that gardening has actual therapeutic properties.  A recent survey even found that 80% of participants who garden considered themselves happy and content with their lives.

Some of the therapeutic qualities of gardening include:

– Reducing anxiety.  Mindfulness – living in and fully experiencing the present moment – is frequently cited as a way to help relieve issues like anxiety and stress.  As this writer points out, when you’re out there in the earth, planting and weeding, you’re truly unplugged and disconnected from everyday life, focussing only on your actions and your connection with the earth.

Providing a healthy way to express emotions. You have to get a little rough – pruning, weeding, ripping things away – in order to keep a garden healthy.  This can be a positive way to release anger and frustration.

Building social connections.  In community gardens, people work together and form social bonds, essential to human psychological wellbeing.  Need proof?  In one study, an amazing 100 percent of interview subjects felt that taking part in a community conservation project was beneficial to their mental health.

– Helping us better understand the nature of life and death. Growth, blossoming, weather damage, and weeding can serve as reminders that life can be harsh — and full of hope and rebirth, all at once.  In this way, gardening can also help us come to terms with the natural cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Helping manage certain mental illnesses.  Some horticultural therapy programs may help people with conditions like bipolar II disorder, depression, and psychosis.  For example, 80% of the mentally ill young people participating in the Grow2Grow program were able to transition into school or work.  In a Norwegian study, subjects who gardened six hours a week found their conditions notably improved, and that improvement even lasted for months after their gardening experiences.

Gardening can also improve physical health, sometimes in surprising ways, including:

Encouraging exercise.  Exercise benefits body and mind in numerous ways, and gardening provides ample ways to get some: ripping out weeds, carrying and lifting heavy loads, digging….  

Inspiring better eating habits. Not only is fresh, pesticide-free produce from your own garden incredibly good for you; it seems that eating it encourages you to want more.  Researchers have found that gardeners often eat more fruit and veg than the rest of us.

Exposing the body to good bacteria.  The cleanliness of the modern developed world is a good thing in many ways, but there is a dangerous side, according to integrative physiology professor Dr. Christopher Lowry.  By putting our hands in the dirt, we’re reuniting with bacteria that we evolved alongside, Lowry says – and this is a good thing, since it should ideally help stabilise our immune systems and reduce issues like inflammation.

– Healing mental and physical wounds. ‘Grounding’ or ‘earthing’ is the practice of walking barefoot in soil or grass. The physical contact with the earth can have powerful effects on mental and physical health. In a fascinating documentary called ‘Grounded’, we see how a small Alaskan town’s residents found their health and overall lives improved, simply by re-connecting to the earth. You can watch it for free here and I highly recommend it.

Every year, around 1 in every 5 Australians will have a mental health issue.  Even more of us won’t get enough exercise or healthy food in our diets.  Gardening, grounding, and generally getting back in touch with nature can prevent and manage many of these issues.  Why not look into visiting or starting a garden of your own?

Now if you’d like to know about how to use a permaculture approach to gardening (and living), you might like to access the training video available in the Online Resources section of my website. Whether thats your thing or not, do get yourself out into a garden for some nature therapy, for Mother Nature is the greatest healer of all!

Until we’re looking at each other, take good care of You!


Karen Seinor

Soulful & Wild

Albury NSW Australia