Research has shown that spending time outdoors is good for our bodies and our minds. I'm sure you've experienced these benefits: After feeling stressed out or bored indoors, you step outside and your spirits lift.
One great way to spend time outdoors is to garden.
Gardening can improve many aspects of mental health, focus, concentration and Improves mood. Gardening can make you feel more peaceful and content. Focusing your attention on the immediate tasks and details of gardening can reduce negative thoughts and feelings and can make you feel better in the moment.
Further research on gardening found it improved life satisfaction and mood. Digging in the dirt really does lift your spirits. The digging stirs up microbes in the soil. Inhaling these microbes can stimulate serotonin production, which can make you feel relaxed and happier.
Some food for thought on gardening by Joe Lamp'l:
1. Practicing Acceptance - Most of our suffering comes from trying to control things that we can't. The more we can accept the limits of our control and the unpredictability of life, the more peace of mind we can find—and gardening is a great way to practice. 'Every day is one more reminder from Mother Nature that I'm not in control,' Lamp'l said, which he finds helpful as a self-described "control freak."
2. Moving Beyond Perfectionism - If you're prone to perfectionism, you're probably well aware of the costs. Trying to make things perfect can lead to frustration, missed deadlines and opportunities, and strained relationships. It can also lead to not even trying to do something, with a mentality of 'why bother if it can't be perfect?'
3. Developing a Growth Mindset - The inability to garden perfectly is actually cause for celebration. Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the distinction between 'fixed' and 'growth' mindsets, and gardening is a great opportunity to develop the latter. With a growth mindset, we assume that we're constantly learning. When something doesn't work out the way we had hoped, we view it as a learning opportunity rather than as a 'failure.'
4. Connecting with Others - Few things boost our well-being like good relationships, and gardening offers ample opportunities to connect with others. Lamp'l noted that 'gardening is one of the best ways to connect strangers" and quickly become friends "because we have that gardening thing in common.'
5. Connecting to Your World - Gardening provides a connection not just to other people but to our world. Many people feel that connection in a visceral way when they eat food they've just harvested. 'We all have an innate connection to the earth,' said Lamp'l, 'and that connection manifests itself when we consume what came from the ground—which is where we came from and where we all end up.'
6. Bathing in Green - The Japanese expression 'shinrin-yoku' can be translated as 'forest bathing,' which nicely captures the experience of being immersed in green. A growing body of research has found all kinds of benefits from being in natural landscapes.
7. Being Present - Mindful presence is tied to a long list of positive outcomes, like relationship satisfaction and less emotional reactivity. The garden can be a protected place where we practice being where we are and actually doing what we're doing.
8. Physical Exercise - Moving your body regularly is an effective way to boost mood and lower anxiety, and gardening offers 'no shortage of opportunities for physical activity,' said Lamp'l. Even when he's not able to get to the gym consistently, he maintains muscle tone and feels good through daily work in his garden.
9. Reducing Stress - Not surprisingly, time in your garden can be a great way to release stress. There's something about feeling the life all around you, the warmth of the sun, the soil in your hands. As I sit in my own garden these days I see rainbow Swiss chard and lettuces shaking in the wind, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries ripening, and feel the breeze as clouds move across the blue sky.
10. Eating Healthfully - Last but not least, a garden can yield the freshest and healthiest foods available—the types of food that can have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, two studies showed that dietary changes can be an effective treatment for depression.
Studies in this area tend to find benefits of the 'Mediterranean' (and similar) diet, which emphasizes consuming minimally processed whole foods—exactly the types of food that your garden will yield. Plus there's the added benefit of knowing you played a role in growing the food.
How to Get Started
Ready to start a garden of your own? Here are six quick tips that Lamp'l recommends for beginners.
Just start. Decide that you're going to get started, even though you don't know how it's going to go or even exactly what you're doing. "Try it, and so what if you fail?" asked Lamp'l. 'The worst that will happen is you'll learn something. And that's worth the price of a plant, every time.'
Start slow. Lamp'l noted that it's easy to get excited when starting out and plant too much, which ends up being hard to keep up with. As a result, you could end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. So get started, but don't overdo it. You can always add to your garden over time. A simple first step is to grow something in a container that you can put close to your house, so it's easy to take care of and enjoy seeing every day.
Focus on healthy soil. Successful gardening starts literally from the ground up, according to Lamp'l. 'Soil is life. When you focus on that, good things happen.' He strongly advises gardeners to avoid synthetic chemicals and 'start feeding the soil with organic material.' That can include compost, the 'single best thing you can add to the soil because there's so much in it,' and anything else that nature provides, like shredded leaves, shredded bark, or aged manure.
Grow what you like. Choose fruits and vegetables to grow based on 'what you want to eat or what you like looking at,' advised Lamp'l. 'Grow something that's easy and that grows quickly, like a radish or lettuce.' The ease and quick reward will be motivation to stick with it.
Know your plants' needs. 'Learn something about the plant before you stick it in the ground,' said Lamp'l. 'Read the plant tag so you know if it likes sun or shade and wet or dry, and do your best to give it the environment it wants to thrive in.' After all, plants can't move themselves, so it's up to us to 'put the right plant in the right place.' Your plants will reward you for it.
Pay attention to your plants. Spend at least a little time in your garden every day observing what's happening. That way you can ‘be proactive when problems arise and can circumvent potentially bigger problems,' said Lamp'l. Besides, there's really no downside to spending time in your garden, given all the benefits discussed here.
Garden is not only my ultimate refuge, but also inspiration for almost all the plant-based recipes that I develop or create. My culinary motto are garden-to-table and farm-to-table. The immense joy that I experience when planting and gardening herbs and veggies are simply indescribable.
Start a garden or do some gardening this weekend!
Chef Ellie Lavender
Vegan Mediterranean Personal Chef
Culinary & Wine Pairing Instructor
Lavender Design + Cuisine
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