The past year has seen a proliferation of solitary, insular and sedentary activities. The side effects on mental and physical health have largely been negative. After a particularly long and fraught winter, many are revelling in the growing hours of sunlight and weather that’s slowly trending toward warmth.
Those emerging and dusting cobwebs off themselves after what has felt like prolonged hibernation might be in search of new activities to fill the days they can now spend outside. There is perhaps no better, nor more seasonally appropriate, activity to recover a lost — or at least, muddled — sense of self than gardening.
There is nothing comparable.
It goes beyond the rich, musty smell of healthy soil or the gentle pulsating energy of the sun warming your skin or even the food that comes from a successful harvest.
But what it really is — and why gardening is so special — is that it’s the insinuation of oneself into a process that is completely beyond oneself. The seeds, the soil, the sun, none of these things are human-made. The process is simply trying to replicate conditions that are supportive of life.
It is meditation, it is habituation, it is humbling oneself in the face of nature.
In gardening we find ourselves nurturing nature so that it may nurture us. Daily attentiveness to fostering this symbiotic relationship results in an enhanced awareness of human dependence on the natural world.
A sense of wonder is created when one realizes the specificity of the conditions that allow for an everyday abundance of life that is easy to take for granted. Walking through a forest hits differently when you’ve failed — despite your best human effort — to grow a bean plant to maturity.
Eating food that has been shipped in a refrigerated container halfway across the globe ceases to be quite as fulfilling once you’ve had fresh produce. Yet, at the same time, it increases your appreciation for the farmers who helped grow it.
Benefits from gardening go well beyond the pseudo-spiritual virtues of communing with nature. There are a whole host of studies that have shown the cognitive and health-related benefits of gardening.
Gardens are proven stress relievers and not just for those who tend to them. Roger Ulrich has extensively studied the effects of gardens and other natural scenery on stress levels and the recovery rate of hospital patients.
Ulrich’s research shows that simply looking at natural spaces both lowers stress levels and expedites recovery from medical procedures. It also demonstrates higher satisfaction levels for staff who are exposed to the areas, with the biggest benefits for those who actively participate in the gardening process.
Gardening has also been shown to increase dexterity and strength, reduce the likelihood of dementia, lower blood pressure and increase longevity. A study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests gardening also encourages the growth of brain nerves related to memory.
Like anything else, starting a new hobby can seem intimidating. Unlike everything else, gardening is beginner-friendly and getting started is simple and accessible to almost anyone.
Soil, water, seeds and space are all that’s required.
An herb garden takes up minimal space and is extremely rewarding in that it provides fresh seasoning to use in food. Flower gardens add near-instant beauty to any space they occupy and similarly take up however much space you are willing to give them.
Although they require a bit more room and are considerably more labor-intensive, fruit and vegetable gardens are also incredibly gratifying when it comes time for harvest.
Those who do not have the ability to garden in their own space also have several public gardening options.
NAU has several locations where students can get some experience in the garden, one of which is community-based and volunteer-run.
Students for Sustainable Living and Urban Gardening is an on-campus club that incorporates both student and faculty volunteers and employs and teaches organic permaculture gardening techniques. Anyone interested can sign up here.
Likewise, Flagstaff has several community gardens that are open to anyone, though there are a limited number of spots each year and the price is $65. To sign up and secure a spot for the season, those interested can enroll here.
Those who choose to partake in these opportunities are sure not to regret the decision. There is nothing quite as restorative to a psyche, jangled by a year of loss and trauma, than nurturing and sustaining life that is both beneficial to you and everyone who sees it.