We’ll start with the most obvious reason why cultivating plants is so important: We cannot eat, drink, or breathe without them around. No plants = no life and that can’t be healthy!
Daily gardening chores like watering, weeding, trellising, mulching, and harvesting are great ways to augment an exercise regimen. Granted, most of the time gardening is not a substitute for focused cardio and strength training, but it combines low-impact exercise with other benefits we can’t find at the gym.
Taking time every morning and evening to tend to the veggies, train the honeysuckle or admire budding iris takes us outside. This might seem trivial, but research shows that being in natural surroundings can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve concentration. Communing with nature is a clichéd phrase used in jest more often not, but it proves to be a significant factor in challenging any number of diseases and disorders. Researchers are studying the benefits of nature therapy on everything from ADHD and depression to spinal injuries and cancer.
Vegetable gardening gives us positive feelings of self-sufficiency. Knowing we have fresh homegrown produce can ease our concerns about providing for our friends and families should something cripple the infrastructure we rely on so heavily.
Those who are partial (or equally devoted) to ornamental gardening can consider how society places a great deal of significance on flowers, even if it is unconscious or under appreciated. Flowers accompany almost every ritual or ceremony we have. Weddings, funerals, dates, housewarmings, baby showers, birthdays. . . The list goes on. As a part of our make-up as human beings, we are comforted and delighted by beauty. For the skeptics who are tempted to dismiss this point as unscientific or silly, pay attention to the way people respond the next time you bring flowers and reconsider.
It is impossible to work in a garden without learning something and, lucky for us, there are no tuition fees, no prerequisites, and no grades. We find ourselves figuring the maximum total run and area for each zone of a drip irrigation system, designing the perfect raised bed and pollinating squash by hand so that we can save the seed for next year. Successful gardening requires planning, problem solving and creativity.
Planting, watering and harvesting do not require supplementary reading, but the seasons certainly seem to encourage it. When the ground and the sky are both a disconcerting white and I think I might dig my own grave just to get my hands in the soil again, books about gardening are the only available alternative. There is so much to learn that even the most avid and highly educated gardener will never find themselves without something to study while waiting for the ground to thaw.
Community gardens do much more than bring people together. The presence of gardens improves our interactions with each other. Studies conducted in large cities show that crime rates (burglary and theft specifically) decrease as accessible gardens and green spaces increase. Working in a community garden fosters a sense of ownership, personal agency and stewardship which in turn increases interest in social activism and other forms of community improvement.
Gardening as a group is a great activity, but for those of us who see gardening as a solitary pursuit, a mood apart and a respite from social interaction, there are still ways to contribute positively to our communities through our gardening efforts. Gardens increase property value, not just for the gardener’s home, but for the neighborhood as a whole. Though we may do our garden chores alone, there are endless opportunities to share produce, perennials and cut flowers with our neighbours and friends.
We know that local food is often, if not always, better food. Produce harvested from your backyard or a local community garden is fresher, more nutritious and better tasting than produce that is often picked before it is ripe and shipped to the grocery store. We recognize the benefit to our diets and our budgets, but often overlook how gardening contributes to environmental conservation. By cutting the commodity chain short, gardens help us conserve resources used in transportation and reduce the packaging waste that ends up in the landfill.