On a typical miserably hot July day, the third summer of the garden, I was pulling black-eyed Susans out of the coneflowers and pincushions. (Black-eyed Susans spread like a virus and will fill any available space, but that is a story for another day.) An older gentleman walked by and stopped to chat as neighbors do. After a few minutes, as the conversation was wrapping up, I sort of laughed and said something to the effect that gardening was way more work than keeping a lawn, but I enjoyed it anyway. He replied, “Yes, it’s good for you.” Then, smiling, he walked away. After going about 20 feet, he turned, looking down briefly as if pondering what he was about to say, and then offered, “It’s good for everybody,” before returning to his walk. I nodded, pleased that he valued the garden and my efforts. That moment has remained with me.
Another neighbor told me, effusively half-yelling from a few houses away, that walking by the yard made her happy. Happy!
There are actual studies that show gardening has mental health benefits*. I can personally attest to this fact. Nothing quite compares to the array of colors and textures on a cool morning in late-May when the garden is at its peak. There are butterflies, four or five kinds of bees, hummingbirds, robins, sparrows, doves, bluejays, bluebirds, and the occasional chipmunk— chattering and going about their business. Looking out over this gives such a sense of peace and contentment that it removes any memory of the work required to maintain it. Oddly, the work itself is soothing. When concentrating on spreading mulch or pruning, the slings and arrows of daily life fade into the background.
Having a garden provides a sense of life’s rhythms that is more intimate and interesting than one can glean from simply watching the seasons pass. Watching a garden come alive each day gives one a sense of balance, that there is an order to the world, and fundamentally, everything makes sense. It is difficult to express the sense of satisfaction, of making a contribution, when the black and blue salvia is loaded with bees or goldfinches with brilliant yellow patches stop by in groups to munch black-eyed Susan seeds. It took a while before I realized that robins show up on days that I water. From the time I turn on the sprinklers, they check back periodically, and if the water has been going for more than an hour or so (I rarely water for more than two hours), they hang around the edges until I turn the water off. Then in groups, they hunt for worms coming to the surface to escape the water. Somehow, robins have learned my habits!
Hearing the effects the garden has on my neighbors is deeply satisfying, making it easier to deal with mosquito bites and sore limbs. The idea that the garden is a community resource was cemented for me by a group of ten-year-old boys playing up and down the street. While running by, a few paused just long enough to yell, “Your yard is beautiful!” Remembering myself at that age, it would never have occurred to me to comment on anyone’s garden. But then again, I can’t remember anyone with a front-yard garden.
A group of boys took the time to pause and yell their approval. The gentleman was right. It is truly good for everybody.
* Gardening becomes healing with horticultural therapy
Horticultural therapy in a psychiatric in-patient setting