I don’t talk about it much online, but gardening is what I do for a living.
It seems like the thought of gardening conjures up precious images in most peoples heads. …cutting flowers… planting seeds… harvesting herbs in the sunshine like you’re Martha freaking Stewart.
It’s pretty much never like that. In reality, it’s almost always strenuous, back-breaking labor.
And I love every dirty minute of it.
My grandma called gardening her therapy. I wish I would’ve spent more time with her in the garden, but I do remember a few things: the mysterious compost pile she was always referencing, the load of peat moss she spread in all the beds once a year, her endless love of flowers, how she could place a decorative rock like nobody’s business, and her complete and total loathing of weeds. Sometimes when we were out running errands she’d stop to pull weeds wherever she saw them. No parking lot or random city flower bed was safe from her meticulous and scrutinizing eye. (As I kid I found this hilarious and absurd. I still do, and at the same time – I can totally relate.)
I can’t say for sure why she personally felt gardening to be so therapeutic, but I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with her.
There are many reasons why I think gardening kicks ass. Here are seven:
1. Being outside.
Naturally. Fresh air, open space, the sky, the horizon, the sounds, the absence of screens and cubicles and walls… gah. being outside feels like freedom.
Of course there are loads of outside jobs besides gardening, and there are a ton of ways to experience the outdoors without having an outside job. (i love them all). But gardening is particularly awesome because you’re
2. Working with plants and ecosystems.
Gardening is about interacting with environments. Being in nature is grand, but to garden is to actively engage with it. You’re on your knees with your hands in the dirt. You’re pulling weeds – you’re deciphering “weeds” from everything else (it’s extremely subjective, I’ll have you know – and many “weeds” are actually incredibly beneficial plants. but that’s another article).
You get to witness the way things grow, spread, and root. You’re uncovering ant hills and large gatherings of potato bugs. You’re pruning branches and influencing the shape of a shrub or tree. You’re seeing, week after week, the cycle of each plant… how it forms new leaves… when it flowers… how long it stays in bloom… they way it wilts… what it looks like when it goes to seed.
By gardening you’re directly relating with the cycles of germination, sprouting, growth, fruition, decay, and death. And it’s bloody miraculous. Put another way,
3. Gardening is sensual.
You get to touch everything. Smell the Lemon… taste the Nasturtium. There is nothing like munching on a freshly plucked mint leaf as you crawl your way between the bushes. Plant debris gets in your hair and sticks to your skin. Spiders, ants, and bugs will crawl on you, and you will definitely run face-first into webs once in a while. (i still freak out a little every time it happens.)
When you garden, you know for a fact that honey bees are sweet and docile, because they’re bumping into your arms and hands while you’re cutting the Rosemary and dead-heading the Lavender. You can hear the soft hum of them. You see and hear the Hummingbirds darting this way and that, and the butterflies as they flutter about. Sometimes one will land right next to you, and you have no choice but to stop and marvel at it for as long as it stays around, because they are so freaking mesmerizing.
Which leads me to a secret most gardeners know:
4. It’s ridiculously magical.
In the garden you start to feel like a visitor in a mysterious, wondrous world. You don’t know the language being spoken in this place, but you get the distinct impression that the plants and creatures are more than willing to teach you… if only you would only listen. I think nature is definitely trying to communicate its wisdom. (Ancient and indigenous cultures have always known this. Science is catching up. Check a few of the incredible things happening in the field of biomimicry.)
Does that plant need food? If you’re asking the question, chances are you’ve got your answer. If you doubt yourself, just keep at it, because overtime gardening generously
5. Increases your awareness.
There’s no such thing as a “green thumb”. Any experienced gardener will tell you that the main difference between a person who kills plants and a person who doesn’t, is that the latter simply takes the time to stop and pay attention. Take it from someone who isn’t exactly known for being observant – spending time in the garden will teach you to pay closer attention to your surroundings. It just will.
And, I’ve found that paying attention to my surroundings has given me
6. A better understanding of the universe
Patterns! Geometry! Math! The Fibonacci Sequence FFS! It’s Biology man, and you’re seeing it on the macro level. When you garden, you begin to understand that organisms work together in a symbiotic way – not because you read it in a book (nothing against books – i love em), but because you witness it with your own eyes.
…How plants mingle together and create diverse ecosystems. …The ways various bugs interact – and how they use and benefit each other (oh they harm each other too)…
You spot the mushrooms pushing their way up through the dirt, and how they sometimes form a circle. You notice how everything grows in a spiral. (Literally. Everything!) You basically get to witness life unfolding right beneath your nose.
Have I said that it’s magical? Yes. And also 100% tangible. Which is what makes it so
7. Grounding. (ie: You get to destroy things)
In the garden your actions have palpable effects. You rip things and cut things with your own hands. At the end of the day, you see the results of your labor. Your bags of yard waste are there bearing witness to all the work you’ve just done. It’s so damn satisfying.
Gardening makes me feel alive and connected – to the earth, to other living creatures, to my surroundings, to the world, to something bigger than my self. When I garden I have a sense of innate belonging. Even if it is because I just tore down that obnoxiously invasive vine. For me, destroying things is often the most delicious part.
A recent study has shown that a particular bacterium in soil makes you happy when your skin comes into contact with it. It literally raises your serotonin levels! Amazing.
So even if gardening isn’t your thing, try sticking your hands in some dirt next time you’re feeling blue. It just might be habit forming.
Note: This post has been edited and updated from the original. Since my grandma’s passing in September, 2016, I felt the need to make some changes and dedicate it to her.
In fond and loving memory of Shirley, my sweet grammalou ❤