Gardening for Mental Health
There is overwhelming evidence that being around plants, and particularly gardens, has a positive impact on mental health. Richard Thompson suggests, in an article published by the Royal College of Physicians, that the use of therapeutic gardens could reduce pressure on the National Health Service in England. The science shows that my plants are helping me and it may even take some pressure off the healthcare industry. To my way of thinking this should qualify gardeners to a discount on their health insurance premiums!
There is a serious side to this, though; we live in a difficult time, a time when we are often isolated and frightened. Family gatherings are being put off again. Hospitals are once again overloaded. The stress we are under is itself part of the health risk we are facing. We need to find ways to manage stress and center ourselves in order to promote a greater feeling of well-being which research shows will actually strengthen your immune system. One of the best ways to do this is gardening. Gardening keeps you busy and out of doors. The sunshine itself is healing. In a study from Norway, it was shown that 30 minutes of sun can produce 5 times the daily requirement of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a major role in making serotonin, the brain chemical that produces happiness. That is one benefit of weeding most people never consider.
Not all of us have the space or time for a garden though. Just walking through a garden and writing down your thoughts has been shown to reduce depression in older adults. Being surrounded by plants inside and outside greatly improves your mood.
Living in Tuolumne County we are doubly fortunate that it is only a short drive into the heart of some of the most beautiful forests in the world. Surrounding ourselves with nature has been used “as an active component in a therapeutic intervention for clinical depression” says an article from Texas A&M. The Japanese call this “shinrin-yoku” which can be translated as “forest bathing.” A great deal of research is being gathered that shows the benefits of this Nature Immersion.
Frankly, this is nothing new. Florence Nightingale, the Mother of Nursing, said that the most difficult thing for a patient was and still is “not being able to see out of the window, and the knots in the wood being the only view. I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-colored flowers.” She encouraged hospitals to create healing gardens as places where the patients would have natural space to help in healing. She said “People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too.”
Master Gardeners promote health and beauty to serve all around us, an important task in this difficult time.
Jim Bliss is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.
UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire here. Check out our website here. You can also find us on Facebook.