Flower Power – The Dirt on Why Gardening can be so Good for You.

Flower Power – The Dirt on Why Gardening can be so Good for You.


Spring and summer are great times to get your hands in the dirt! Birds are refurbishing their nests. Bees are out searching for pollen. And the soil is getting warm and fertile.

Okay, so maybe you weren’t born with a green thumb, or any other green finger, for that matter. Perhaps you can’t remember what Forget-me-not looks like. Or don’t know a Wavy-Leafed Hosta from a common weed. That doesn’t mean you can’t get out and enjoy a relaxing and stimulating pastime that’s extremely popular at almost every Sunshine retirement community: You guessed it. Gardening.

President Thomas Jefferson, a noted horticulturist, once said, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”

That sincere delight is one reason why most of our communities have outdoor spaces where residents can culture their own pieces of earth, and why many even have designated community gardens where residents commonly grow their own vegetables and herbs, as well as colorful arrays of flowers. But there are many other reasons as well.

Yvonne Babb, owner of Your Garden Companion, an Oregon-based business that provides planting and growing assistance for individuals, youth groups and senior centers fully believes in the therapeutic power of gardening. Her husband suffered a stroke while in his 40s and now enjoys gardening in his wheelchair.

Says Babb, “What gardening entails is a variety of engaging movements in the most therapeutic gym possible: Mother Nature. As our population ages, there is all the more reason to include modified gardening spaces that allow residents to continue to stay active and interact in nature.”

Not long ago, Psychology Today cited no less than 10 reasons why gardening has noticeable mental as well as physical healing power. Here are several of our favorites:

  • Looking after plants gives us a sense of responsibility for other living things and reawakens the appreciation of the magic of nature that we had when we were children.
  • Gardening allows us all to be nurturers. Plants could care less who is tending them, whether they’re young or old, male or female, or whether they have a disability of some sort. They’re the great equalizer. Treat them well and their power can be transformative. This especially rings true for Babb.
  • Gardening can act as a gentle reminder to us that we are not the center of the universe. Self-absorption can contribute to depression, and focusing on the great outdoors – even in a small patch of soil – can encourage us to be less insular.
  • Gardening helps us relax and let go. Freud noted that, “Flowers are restful to look at. They have no emotions or conflict.” Therefore, they offer a welcome escape from uncomfortable social situations, deadlines and daily pressures.
  • Working in nature releases happy hormones. What’s good for the body is also good for the mind. And when we are active, levels of hormones that make us feel good rise and the level of a hormone associated with stress is lowered. Gardening can also get rid of excess energy so you sleep better and ultimately feel renewed inside.
  • Gardening can be a good way to gain a sense of control. While trying to manage family members, friends or colleagues can be a fruitless exercise, in your garden, you call the shots. You decide what to plant, pick, pull and prune. That can make gardening a particularly empowering experience.
  • Spending time with plants and flowers reminds us to live in the present. Next time you’re in a garden, take a moment to allow yourself to get in touch with your senses. See. Listen. Touch. Smell. Just a short time experiencing the fullness of nature like this can be very restorative.
    According to Babb, “As such an engaging activity that uses all your senses, gardening both stimulates and calms the inner child in all of us, whether we are finding worms, stopping to watch the bees, or listening to the birds.”
  • And finally, gardening is easy. For all of its healing power, the world of plants can feel intimidating to an outsider. If you haven’t tried it, you may well be anxious that you won’t have “green fingers.” Yet, as with all new ventures, the key is to start small and learn as you grow. You don’t need garden the size of a meadow to enjoy gardening. One of our smaller plots will do just fine.
    The key is to let your activities director know of your interest in gardening and let them help you get started. If space on the property is not available, they can always set you up with a window garden in your apartment. And they’ll be happy to arrange transportation to a local gardening center to buy pots, tools and soil.

Then, as Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood once said, “In spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living

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