The importance of gardening isn’t a topic that is emphasized in books and blogs that teach you either backyard vegetable gardening or about growing flowers. You’ll hear things like, “Gardening saves you money”, and “gardening helps you get exercise.”
But such vague phrases do little to motivate people to start their own backyard garden…especially when they talk to honest gardeners like me and find out that trying to save money on food by starting a vegetable garden can be like trying to save water by showering with a fire hydrant!
Regardless, there are compelling reasons to grow a garden, especially a food garden. The importance of gardening has to do with human health – not only physical, but mental and spiritual as well – environmental health, and, yes, financial security (though not in the way you might be thinking).
Let’s start with the benefits of gardening that may seem the most obvious…though, when you start digging deeper into the soil of the concept, you might be surprised with what you end up harvesting.
The physical health benefits of gardening
It’s a no-brainer that if you garden, even if all you do is grow flowers, you will glean some health benefits. At the very least, gardening keeps you from sitting around all day. You need to spend some time standing and moving around at least several days a week in order to maintain your garden. If you’re weeding, pruning, or transplanting, you actually get a decent amount of exercise.
But did you know that researchers have actually conducted studies about how gardening can make you healthier? For example, if you’re over 60 years old and get out in the garden and do some moderate activity on a regular basis, you can cut your risk of stroke and heart disease by up to 30%!
Researchers also know that a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of a variety of maladies, cancer being foremost. Unless your garden is inside, your gardening hobby gets you out in the sun and thus exposed to the pre-cursors of vitamin D that only the sun’s rays can provide.
Speaking of exposure…digging in the dirt means exposing yourself to many beneficial bacteria which, once inside your body, can help improve your immune function. So much for playing in the dirt being only for kids!
As we age, we tend to lose physical dexterity and strength in general. But if you garden, you encourage dexterity and strength in, if nowhere else on your body, your hands.
Then there’s the absolute truth that produce that you picked out of your garden ten minutes ago is much more nutritious and more flavorful than anything you’ll ever buy in a store. The extra nutrition you get from freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables leads to overall better health.
The mental health benefits of gardening
You’re probably aware that garden oases have been created at places housing former military personnel trying to heal from PTSD. Mental health experts have found that the quiet activities required to grow and maintain a garden do wonders to reduce stress and to heal from traumatic events.
Well, if it works for them, why not for us civilians who are dealing with different kinds, and lower levels, of stress? The fact is, working out in a garden is a great stress-buster for anybody. As you walk through your garden and pull up the occasional weed, prune the occasional branch, and talk to the honeybees, it’s easy to focus your mind on the lush vegetation and fascinations of nature that surround you. This focus is meditative, and being in a meditative state can help you solve problems, spark creativity, and see different issues in a more positive light.
Researchers and medical practitioners have found that people suffering from depression feel better when they’ve been out in the garden for a while, for similar reasons.
And did you ever think of the satisfaction of harvesting food – or even picking flowers – from a plant you nurtured yourself? Gardening lifts self-esteem.
Now, I’m not going to lie – walking out to your garden to discover that an unexpected freeze killed all the peppers you planted out the other day, or that a storm ripped down half your pea plants and a cucumber vine, can be frustrating. But as you gain experience in gardening you learn to make contingency plans for the inevitable surprises of nature, in which case you can just shrug your shoulders at them and move on.
The spiritual health benefits of gardening
Ask anyone who’s ever, by themselves, hiked a nature trail, a walked through the woods, or sat and watched the sun rise or set over a large body of water, and if they believe in a personal Higher Power, they’ll tell you that the activity made them feel closer to that Power.
Being out in a garden – whether you’re working or just enjoying the environment – has the exact same effect. Suddenly, you’re aware that you are not alone, that there is a Presence – and a loving Presence at that.
Avail yourself of this kind of awareness daily, and how much better of a person do you think you will become?
In addition, just as the satisfaction of work well done improves self-esteem, so it does wonders to nurture a sense of purpose inside you.
The importance of gardening to the environment
Commercial agriculture has messed up an alarming proportion of the Earth’s soil. It has not only caused erosion and depleted the soil of minerals, but also has thrown the delicate, microscopic under-earth ecosystem off balance.
It is this ecosystem which encourages healthy plant growth, and enables us to have nutrient-rich plant food in the first place!
Do I have to mention the synthetic pesticides and herbicides used to grow grains, beans, and vegetables?
Commercial agriculture has wreaked, is wreaking, and will continue to wreak havoc on the environment.
When you choose to start a backyard garden, when you make home gardening a priority – and you use methods that encourage healthy soil – you make a difference. You don’t have to buy as much produce from the store, so you are one less person encouraging Big Ag to continue on with their unhealthy practices.
Gardening according to the laws and patterns of nature also encourages a more diverse, and thus healthier, ecosystem above the soil’s surface.
You might think that your growing a few tomatoes can’t possibly make a difference, but what if everybody produced just three percent of the food they ate? Can you imagine the impact that would make?
How gardening enhances financial security
If the stuff hit the fan tomorrow and all grocery stores shut down, my family wouldn’t starve. One potato multiplies into dozens of pounds of potatoes after a couple of generations. One kale plant multiplies into thousands.
While building a fence to keep mammal pests out of your garden, and spraying with organic pesticides to keep the insect pests under control, can make getting a return on your gardening investment take a long time, what price can you put on not needing to buy groceries?
The stuff may never hit the fan. But what if the breadwinner of your household has to stop working, or is fired? Think of how much nicer life if you had a lot of homegrown produce preserved and/or growing, so that you could focus on paying the light and water bills and not so much a food bill.
The importance of gardening, summarized
Getting closer to God.
Improving your overall physical health.
Healing from trauma.
Helping save the planet.
Greater financial security.
These are just a few of the benefits you get from gardening, especially if you endeavor to grow your own food.
I can’t underestimate the importance of gardening. Even if all you can do is grow sprouts in a jar, or some herbs on a windowsill, taking those baby steps will make a positive impact in your life…and maybe even someone else’s, as well.