What a garden can provide for good mental health

By Lauren Lewis

Scientists have long recognized the mental and physical health benefits that come from interacting with nature. These various benefits were reviewed comprehensively in a recent article, viewed together as an ecosystem service of nature just like carbon sequestration or water filtration. And as we gain understanding of the negative impacts of pervasive screen time, there’s more and more traction for the argument that interaction with nature is actually necessary for strong mental health rather than just a nice-to-have. Here’s a look at some of the bolstering experiences a garden can offer that are elusive in our typical day-to-days (our subjective list).

Physical Work: If your occupation requires a lot of your brain but not a lot of your body, tending the garden is a novel source of physical work. In other words, it’s exercise but with the added satisfaction of accomplishing something external simultaneously. Plus, the external motivation that something needs to get done (the ever-active ivy plant isn’t going to keep itself in check) is powerful for forcing physicality.

Visual Accomplishment: On a related note, garden tasks give us the rare gift of accomplishing something you can see very clearly. Unlike computer tasks, which exist on a finite screen of unchanging size, the garden is full of tangible, changeable elements and the work you put in is clear to see. A weedy tangle transformed by hand into a smooth space is immediate, obvious evidence of your efforts, and there’s unavoidable satisfaction in that.

Feeling of Fascination: Part of the joy of a nature-based excursion is the awe and fascination you can get from an incredible vista or a wildlife sighting. If you live in the city, finding that feeling often means traveling elsewhere (our coasts being a notable exception), but the transformations happening in a garden are fascinating if you pay close attention: the amount of new plant material being created from seemingly nothing, the velvety color intensity of a poppy petal. Our day-to-day lives, almost by definition, lack in fascination and the garden can fill that void if you allow it.


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