April 30, 2013

The Joys of Gardening

Schricker,-Mary-Dec2010By Mary Schricker Gemberling

“We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden.”

Every year in April, our suburban yard would come alive with color. The tulips and jonquils would push through the soil and explode in the vibrant colors of spring. The buds on the two forsythia bushes at the corner of our modest brick bungalow would turn to delicate yellow flowers, and the branches of the pussy willow, my favorite of all, would fill with soft cotton like nubs. As spring turned into summer, my childhood home would become a showplace of trees and flowers. My mother, who loved to garden, shared her passion with me, and I, in turn, did the same with my two sons. I never thought much about it, but when they were just toddlers, I would have them sitting next to me on the ground placing the delicate annuals in the freshly dug holes in the landscaping. My older son pursued a career in landscaping and still works in an agricultural related field. And, I am guessing it won’t be too long before my younger son, Bret, has my granddaughter Lucy, trowel in hand, sitting next to him in the garden! I have never questioned why I gardened; it just seemed to be a way of life for me. But in a recent article, I was pleased to read the many benefits that gardening has for both our mental and physical well-being.

• Gardening activities provide both cardio and aerobic exercise. Studies show that an hour of moderate gardening can burn up to 300 calories for women and 400 for men. From walking behind a mower, bending and stretching, planting and trimming, and hauling plants and soil, gardening provides a kind of cardiovascular workout. Strength, endurance and flexibility are all improved by gardening, making it one of the best all-around exercises, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In a study of 3,310 older women, researchers from the University of Arkansas found that women involved in yard work and other types of gardening exercises had lower rates of osteoporosis than joggers, swimmers and women who did aerobics.

• The therapeutic benefits of gardening have been recognized since humans first cultivated plants, but there is now a growing professional practice linking gardening to numerous, wide-ranging mental health benefits. ‘Horticultural Therapy’ is based on the physical, mental and emotional healing that is possible from regular interaction with a garden. It is successfully used in a variety of situations and is useful in helping people with special needs, the elderly, and those who have mental health problems.

• Gardeners who grow their own plants or vegetables are more likely to eat a wider range of fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs than non-gardeners. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is essential to a healthy diet. Those gardeners who raise their own herbs and use them in cooking are one step ahead. The use of herbs in cooking reduces the need for salt and other seasonings that are linked to high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions.

• Gardening is a great activity to share with your children and grandchildren. Not only is it a healthy change from the sedentary, and electronic world that engulfs our young people, but students who actively engage in designing, planting and maintaining a garden, show improved attitudes towards education and significantly higher scores on achievement tests especially in the area of science.

• A garden provides an oasis of calm in a mad, mad world; a personal, private and peaceful place to escape to, from time to time when we need to restore a sense of balance and wellbeing. The term “garden,” which is of Germanic origin, means “yard” or “enclosure” and denotes ways of organizing earth, water, plants, as well as people, animals and art. The ideas of the garden as a place where order is imposed upon an inherently chaotic, disorderly, painful, and dangerous natural world is central to ancient Egyptian, Persian, Islamic, European, and European-American concepts of the garden.

“ My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece of art.”
Claude Monet

It is so much easier to enjoy life when you are surrounded by flowers, vegetables, and all the wildlife they attract. Gardening provides an outlet for creative and artistic expression. It fosters confidence as there are no mistakes in gardening, only experiments. It cultivates patience, gives us hope, and strengthens our faith as we wait for that seed or plant to sprout and our barren earth to become a canvas of vibrant and varied colors.

“He who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see the plants, believes in God.”

Mary Schricker Gemberling, a former educator and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, is the author of two books, The West End Kid and Labor of Love; My Personal Journey Through the World of Caregiving (available on www.amazon.com).