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The Healing Benefits of Gardening

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I recently wrote an article (not yet published) on the benefits of gardening and was mildly surprised that I was asked to focus on the physical benefits of this activity.  Although I have worked as hard as any construction worker digging holes, hauling plants, and turning soil, I have always found that what I do in the garden has more mental and spiritual benefit than athletic value.

This point of view is supported by the horticultural therapy work that is done in association with medical facilities.  I had the good fortune early in my career to meet Claire Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes.  Marni and I taught a few classes in the garden as a healing space at U.C.L.A.   Cooper-Marcus and Barnes in studies used a combination of behavioral observation and interview methods to evaluate four hospital gardens in California. They found that restoration from stress, including improved mood, was by far the most important category of benefits derived by nearly all users of the gardens — patients, family, and employees.  The limited evidence to date suggests that gardens will likely calm stress effectively if they contain verdant foliage, flowers, water, harmonious nature sounds (birds, breezes, water), and visible wildlife (birds).

Spending time in a garden is also believed by many to have physical and emotional healing effects. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, gardening can benefit people who are recovering from physical illness by retraining their muscles and improving coordination, balance, and strength. In addition, simply spending time in nature reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and relieves muscle tension.

But beyond all of these wonderful benefits the ones that I find most useful are the spiritual ones or what I more correctly term the life lessons the garden teaches.  Gardening can represent a metaphor for life and that is how it has most helped me to balance and heal myself.  Weeding, planting, fertilizing, nurturing, hoping and accepting are all activities that can be done in the garden and your life.  Gardening potentially gives you the pause to think about changing, restoring, and nurturing your life.  Every gardener steps into their land with a sense of optimism.  Without the belief that the earth will support their efforts to create beauty or food, there is no reason to begin.

It is amazing that we trust in the future when there is no present sign that life will appear.  That faith can translate to our lives.  When we begin our career or just a venture, it begins in our mind, we take some actions, and like the miracle of a plant our ideas become whole in the world.

This is why I promote gardening.  I believe that you have so much potential to learn and heal from your garden.   When I am designing a garden the forefront of my efforts is to get people involved enough to work the garden so that they can benefit and transform their lives.

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