How Does Your Garden Grow?
By Rachel Kelly
Gardening is an investment in your well-being. Vegetables, flowers, mushrooms, orchards or trees … whatever is planted well will thrive. And if it thrives, you thrive. The benefits of gardening are numerous: from an increased sense of wellness to healthy levels of vitamin D. The effort of gardening counts as exercise and the product of gardening often leads to an interest in eating healthier. No doubt about it, when you get outside to plant, you harvest health. Also, planting a garden is just beautiful. The scent of the apple blossoms carried on the wind acts as aromatherapy. The sight of green growing things encourages life under the ground and above it, from worms to bees and butterflies. It’s no wonder why we flock to forests, lakes and outdoor spaces at all times of the year. Gardening makes those outdoor spaces accessible just outside our door. Here are a few ways your garden can promote your everyday health.
First, ask yourself, “How does my garden grow?” Yes, it’s a children's nursery rhyme, but it’s also a good rule of thumb when planning out your garden. You want the health benefits of your garden to last throughout the year, so it’s important to consider which plants will bring you the most joy. If you want the garden to benefit you every day, year-around, you have to plant a garden that you find sustainable. For some this means planting plants that seed themselves. Examples of such plants include potatoes, onions, anything in the mint family, evergreens, and a huge variety of flowers. Self-seeding plants require very little tilling and maintenance, and practically thrive on their own.
Some gardens are made up of well-organized “weeds” (by far the easiest sort of garden to grow), which are exceptionally hardy in addition to being self-seeding. When growing exceptionally boisterous plants, you might consider planting in pots or plots. Examples include anything in the dandelion family, mints, many herbs, clover, sunchokes, and different grasses. Many of the herbs and berries harvested for health benefits in the forests and fields are considered “weeds.”
Another very practical approach to gardening for your health means planting things that you enjoy eating, perhaps things that you don’t always find fresh in the grocery store. There’s no reason to become completely reliant upon your garden, although it is nice to peruse the garden for dinner rather than take a trip to the grocery store. However, the more vegetables and fruits you plant, the more you will find yourself branching out and enjoying things that you didn’t know you liked. This often has to do with the very real taste difference between fresh garden produce and grocery store finds: Fresh is just better.
A vegetable garden is accessible, and it opens up doors to produce and delicious foods that we might not have previously had. This encourages us to make healthier choices. An example would be the tomato. It’s relatively easy to grow (make sure you plant the roots deep), and its fruit is extremely abundant. When harvest time comes, you will have basket after basket of tomatoes that are good enough to eat plain, no adornment necessary. The excess can be turned into sauce or salsa to be enjoyed all year. Another example is the sugar snap pea, which during the spring months is so abundant that you could gather a basket daily from five plants. It’s also delicious without any adornment or seasoning and full of protein, making them a favorite for children on the go. Abundance will spawn creativity, and before you know it your plate is full of nutrient-dense goodies. The more you have, the more you consume. When talking about produce, this is a great thing!
Aside from gardening sustainably, and gardening for food, the garden can also be a place of mental health. Many of the benefits that you go out of your way to enjoy, and actively spend money on, can be achieved simply through the garden. The garden can be a place of privacy and rest, much like a mini retreat. For this reason, you might want to plant according to season, with something to enjoy in spring, summer, fall and winter. For example, tulips and crocus will pop up every year during spring, roses in summer and fall, and witch hazel in winter.
It’s not important that the garden always be “practical” to be a place of health. Growing a sense of well-being and safety is not to be scoffed at, as the state of our mind contributes considerably to our physical health. You might be inclined to plant roses for their scent, mint because of its relaxing smell in the bath, lavender because you like to cut the flowers for the dinner table, or dahlias for their burst of color. There are flowers that attract butterflies or hummingbirds, and plants that simply provide greenery. There are a variety of trees that do nothing for your plate but everything for lazy summer days in your hammock. Whatever the reason, investing in a garden is investing in your home and your health. And that is an investment worth making.