Stop! Breathe. Garden.
“STOP! Breathe. Garden,” has become a regular mantra of mine, especially when I am overwhelmed with the responsibilities of life. I grew-up tending my grandfather’s garden. I would sow seeds, water plants, fend off birds and bunnies (humanely, I might add), pick delicious fruits and vegetables, and then eat tasty foods.
As a child, I never understood the benefits of gardening. I only understood how happy my belly felt after eating my grandmother’s delicious blackberry cobbler that I picked earlier in the morning. The benefit of gardening really hit me when I was working at The Arboretum and State Botanical Gardens of Kentucky. While stressed with school projects, I and had no interest in getting up early on a Saturday to work. Reluctantly tending a demonstration garden filled with Stonecrop Sedums, I soon felt a cool breeze and noticed the pollinators flying among the flowers-I was calm. As of now, I cannot tell you the details as to why I was stressed, but I can easily reflect on being calmed. I am not the only one to experience this while gardening. In fact, therapeutic horticulture is a field of science dedicated to similar experiences or outcomes.
Therapeutic Gardening at University of Florida
Leah Diehl, the Director of Therapeutic Horticulture at Wilmot Gardens at the University of Florida, defined therapeutic horticulture as a horticulture program that has goals built for specific groups. Increased socialization is one of those goals. Leah mentioned that Wilmot Gardens works with veteran groups, cancer patients, and autism groups.
Many of Alachua County’s Master Gardeners volunteer in therapeutic gardens around the area, including University of Florida’s Wilmot Gardens. Recently I visited one of the county’s Master Gardener volunteers at The HONOR Center for Veterans. The HONOR Center provides shelter and programs for veterans, which includes a gardening program. During my visit, I met some of the facility’s veterans and spoke to them about their garden. They were happy to show me their newly rebuilt garden beds.
Although a horticultural therapist does not run the gardening program at the HONOR Center, the impacts are equally as significant. The garden provides an accessible place for individuals to have a pro-active social activity that boosts their physical and mental health.
Gardening at Home
Not all of us have gardens, but there are other ways to get similar benefits to gardening. If you live in an apartment, as I do, try growing plants in fun containers. Having any type of plant visible within your home can reduce stress. Some houseplants purify the air in your home and add aesthetic appeal. Herbs are a great substitute for salt and add an extra-level of culinary pizzazz to your meals.
If you are not confident in your ability to grow plants, go outside. Many doctors are now prescribing patients to go outside because of its ability to reduce stress. There are many great places in the area to visit. Go by yourself or with friends, sit below a tree or walk along the trail, and breathe. The only requirement is to disconnect. Turn your phone off, do not worry about social media, and do not worry about tomorrow’s schedule. Remember to be present.
If you have any questions about the area’s therapeutic gardens, would like to learn more about gardening, or are interested in becoming a volunteer with Alachua County’s Master Gardeners reach out to the county’s UF/IFAS Extension Office. However, remember…Stop! Breathe. Garden. It’s for your health.