Why do we do it—garden—when it makes us sweaty, sore, and often cranky? By the end of the harvest season, our faces are red from cooking tomatoes and putting up food either into the pantry or the freezer. Our hands are calloused and nails dirty. And yet…and yet…when it’s all said and done and autumn winds chill the night air, what we’re left with, besides a stocked-up pantry, is a deep feeling of strength and satisfaction. It’s true. With gardening, we harvest more than food and flowers; we harvest health and healing.
It starts with the health that comes just from physical activity: Gardening is proven to be great exercise. And that, I think, comes from our stubbornness; gardeners want to have things a certain way, so we find superhuman strength to move plants, rocks, logs, or whatever else it takes to make our gardens just right. All that weight lifting, bending, and stretching, while leaving us sore the next day, also builds good bone strength and muscles—especially as we age. I bet there are few gardeners who have insufficient vitamin D thanks to gardening in the sun (and occasional rainfall)!
Another health bonus is also the healing power of the food and flowers we grow—whether it’s bouquets that bring stress relief and feelings of joy or the super-nutrient-rich foods we cook, eat, freeze, dry, and can fresh from the vines. There’s a powerful feeling of security and safety seeing my bags of berries, green beans, and savoy cabbage and jars of tomato sauce and pesto lined up in my freezer.
This year, same as last year, I froze single servings of homemade chicken broth (using free-range chickens from the farmers’ market), with one single homegrown cayenne pepper suspended in the golden broth. It’s my cold cure for grown-ups only (kids get the plain old broth). One day, when I have more time, I’d like to study the healing power of herbs, flowers, and plants so that I can grow and make actual medicines for my family. Ever since I was little, I’ve had a feeling that if I was lucky enough to get old, I’d be one of those scary witchy ladies who lived at the end of the lane. So far, so good…I’m on my way!
The garden also offers another type of healing that is not physical, but spiritual, which is perhaps the greatest harvest of all: A hard day spent quietly weeding provides an opportunity to pull out weedy thoughts so productive ones can flourish; a morning spent sitting quietly and watching chipmunks and woodpeckers do their business can teach us about the joyfulness of work. In a garden, we see firsthand the cycle of birth, reproduction, beautiful aging, and then death—and see new life born from the old. We witness the healing that happens after storms and crisis and know that with good soil and good gardening practices, we too can recover.
As organic gardeners, we can add an extra level of healing—the healing of our planet. We know that the ground we tend without toxins is always better off than when we started, the soil will be richer in nutrients and carbon, the wildlife more diverse and healthy. I’m always thrilled when I find bats, bees, frogs, butterflies, and birds. If they are happy and healthy in my garden, then I know that my family and I are likely to be healthy too. Gardens are more than just places to show off our landscaping skills, or to produce enough food to get through the winter (although both of those are good things!). Gardens are microcosms of our approach to living on this planet. If we heal the land, the land heals us. And then we have a bountiful harvest of healing.
Ahhh, we share the same dreams! I too, dream of a medicinal herb garden. Esp. as big pharma lobbies it’s way to control & restrict our dietary supplements & ban herbs. They’re attacking these because they are a true threat to their income, as they work! If we take control of our own health, they lose $$$$.
A threat to home gardening is Senate Bill 510, which contains language that could literally make home gardening a crime, and cause further barriers & obstacles for small, family farms! It’s a fake food safety bill. see links:
I urge ALL to sign! Thank you Maria!
I couldn’t agree with you more Maria! Sadly, I have been living in Key West, FL for more years than I can remember, and ‘gardening’ here is just not the same. However, my husband and I have just bought a home on 10 acres in Maine, and are anxiously looking forward to moving there to do all the things you just talked about…growing our own food, flowers, herbs, and medicinals (I’ll be another scary witchy lady!). Thanks for your fun and inspiring blogs!
Love it Maria. Couldn’t agree with you more. There are so many benefits of it beyond the harvest at the end, which is plenty benefit. We have become so disconnected from nature and our food source, this helps to reestablish that connection. Thanks for writing this.
I have a 30×20 foot vegetable and herb garden in my backyard. Because of my health I can’t eat allot of what I grow, but it goes to people who need it and it helps my mental health immensely. I suffer from severe depression and my garden is the only med I use for it. It has kept me alive. And I really mean that.
This is beautiful. Thank you for the reminder of all the many reasons why growing, touching, spending time nurturing our food is so amazing!
As you mentioned, it is very healing on so many levels.. our bodies, our souls and the planet. I love to be outside, and suggest that my son follow me…overjoyed when, more often than not he chooses to sit there in the dirt with me, pulling weeds chatting about what we are doing and the world we’re in. I am aware of the goodness in the soil, the healthy bacterias we are both being exposed to. (I fear for the generations of children who don’t know what vegetables are, have only played in manufactured dirt from Ikea. very sad) Like nature intended, we are part of the planet and we should be WITH it, not looking at it through a produce window!
Thanks for sharing, I look forward to more posts.
This is beautifully written! I discovered the joys of gardening when I stayed at a sustainable living farm. I find it so true that gardening brings so much more than just food – it is soul-nourishing, provides exercise, and brings nature to scale. We can really experience diversity and life in the garden. Thank you for sharing!
Although I can relate to some of these side benefits you mention, the main reason I grow is because my trust in those who feed us has been forever destroyed. your own Organic Manifesto spells out the issue rather well. I also know our medical system is terrible flawed and plan not to rely on it. “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.” – Hippocrates
Thank you all for your great comments! If you liked reading this, check out Organic Gardening magazine (this is my monthly column from it). I just love what Ethne Clarke and team have created in “OG” as we call it. If you loved this post you’ll love the magazine too!
Yes my back hurts from hauling inside too many huge squash! And yes it is very gratfying to have a meal prepared entirely from food I have grown. Today I had steamed squash with freshly made pesto. Tomorrow I will bring large squash to the senior center – most of them know what to do with it – and after soaking in epsom salts, I will sit down with my new book and plan on next years irritating project – beekeeping! Great article!
My Mom, my best friend, passed away last October 1st from ovarian cancer. I grew up working in the garden with her and it had become one of our favorite things to do together. Last summer, when she was very sick, she would sit in an old wicker chair while I would weed the beds. Our conversations and time spent together are priceless. This summer I decided to put in my Mom’s garden. I live in Seattle and my parent’s house is 6 hours away in North Idaho. I would make the drive at least twice a month for long weekends to spend in the garden.With my Dad’s help, we turned the beds and amended the soil with compost. We planted and weeded. Digging my hands deep in the soil and feeling the sun on my face, I could feel my Mom’s arms around me, comforting me as I quietly had moments of sadness. Gardening has brought me comfort that I never knew it could. The life cycle of the garden helps me to accept the life cycle of the ones we love. I am heading back to Idaho tomorrow to harvest the last of what is in the garden. Being 8 months pregnant with my first child, I’m thankful for the end of the season, but eagerly look forward to planning next summer’s garden that I will plant with my new daughter.
Amen to all posts and bless you Maria.
I have been organic gardening for a few years. I do it because I don’t want my kids to eat chemicals and to preserve the soil and groundwater from toxic contaminants. There is something spiritually uplifting about watching my kids eat vegetables we grew together. My youngest (age 3) thrills me when he sees cucumbers on the table and yells “CUCUMBERS” like they’re a chocolate cake.
Last year, I lost 55lbs working in our garden. We have a large garden and sell at our local farmers’ market. I take pleasure in offering pesticide and herbicide-free foods to the community. They appreciate it as well! Thanks for a great post!