In the time I am out there, I notice something else happening. I no longer feel as gloomy; it seems that scratching at the earth also clears some of the cobwebs and clutter in my brain. Although tired and dirty, I feel eager and excited about planning a garden, but most importantly, I feel grateful for my life and hopeful for I can see better days ahead. It is almost like that little crocus, the robins and those green shoots have given me their confidence and optimism. In a very powerful way I have been transformed and realize that gardening can not only feed me in a literal sense, it can also feed my mind and spirit.
Gardening is good for the body because in addition to providing healthy, fresh and natural food, it is good exercise. While you’re preparing your garden plot to grow fresh veggies, or while you’re busy turning the compost pile, you’re actually doing a decent amount of exercise as well. Basic yard care tasks such as mowing the lawn and raking up leaves are also good ways to get exercise. Gardening and yard care are unique forms of exercise that allow you to do something calming, creative and fun while you work various muscle groups and get a moderate level of cardiovascular exercise as well. This is truly the great thing about gardening for exercise, as you can use your whole body while you’re working. It involves a number of different kinds of exercises, including stretching, weightlifting, and a moderate cardiovascular workout. It can actually be as good as an aerobics class and this has been substantiated by university studies. Like other forms of exercise, gardening can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep away problems with heart disease, diabetes other diseases related to inactivity and excess weight.
When I walk out to the garden, I’m not usually going out there to feed my mind. However the simple acts of digging, working the soil, weeding, and watering forces me to be in the moment. Out there all my senses become involved in specific ways. I have to be able to see the big picture as well as the little things that need attention. Usually I need to have a plan from which tasks are created for me to attend to. I see, smell, feel, hear, and even taste as I garden and although I may have thoughts and concerns about other things trying to hijack me away to the past or future, the task at hand brings me back to now. Doing simple tasks focuses me and reminds me of what’s important right now which eases worry and has a calming effect on my mind. When I head out to get stuff done, I come back and something has been changed in me and my mind feels more refreshed.
The other thing that often happens through gardening occurs in the dimension of the spirit. Something happens on a plane I am not always aware of when I am on my knees and have my fingers in dirt. I notice things, I might not notice otherwise. In a field of still ferns I notice one of them waving in the breeze. Little ordinary things can suddenly seem beautiful and inspiring. For example, I wonder how a tiny seed can contain the energy and power to transform itself and grow into something that seems unimaginable with the help of a little water and sunlight. It’s hard not to be humbled and awed by the miracle of life when we see a seedling push its tiny green head above ground, lean toward the sun and unfurl its first set of leaves, fulfilling its mission to grow and be. How is it that a minuscule seed can become an active participant in the mystery and magic of the cycle of nature, capable of transforming the landscape?
Working in the garden permits me to begin to see the woven pattern of relationships in nature, and reminds me that nothing in nature is independent or isolated. It is also clear and confirming evidence that there are forces and powers which I do not understand that can work unimaginable wonders. This is especially helpful when I’m feeling helpless, lost and scared. On these days, when I go out to work in the garden I often return having received a spiritual “booster shot.” This will usually give me a new perspective, one which not only humbles me, but also provides me with gratitude and hope. It truly amazes me that going to the garden can be enriching to my body, mind and spirit.
“At the heart of gardening there is a belief in the miraculous.” Mirabel Osler
Editor’s Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington Vermont, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.