Growing Green Newsletter, November 6, 2014

Dear Gardening Friends,

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”

My sister is a hippotherapist. For those of you who just envisioned a teary-eyed hippo on Freud’s couch, discussing its personal issues, let me explain; the word ‘hippos’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘horse.’ My sister uses horses as the primary tool in her occupational therapy practice. Most of her clients are disabled children who learn to improve their balance and musculature with the help of the horse’s movement. And, since these children also spend lots of time in doctors’ offices, there’s another big benefit of using horses for therapy; getting out in nature. (For the record, I’ve never met a horse who ever admitted to hanging out in a doctor’s office.)

Likewise, the term ‘horticultural therapy’ doesn’t refer to treating a dysfunctional garden (although that would be awesome). Instead, it refers to utilizing gardening techniques and designs to improve the lives of people suffering from an array of disabilities—both mental and physical. Horticultural therapy has been shown to improve memory, cognition, language, and socialization. On the physical side, horticulture therapy can strengthen muscles, enhance coordination, improve balance, and increase endurance. There are other important attributes as well, such as learning to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.

In a nutshell, gardening is just plain good for you.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
…John Burroughs

Even non-gardeners are hard-wired to find nature soothing and restorative. As many as 95% people polled in a recent survey reported an improved mood after simply spending time outside. Why? Some researchers believe it’s because early humans relied so completely on nature for survival—essentially imprinting on our genes the tendency to find nature both engrossing and restorative. Thanks Cro-magnon man!

I wasn’t surprised to read a recent study in the Netherlands which suggested that gardening is an excellent stress reliever. After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were asked to either read indoors or garden for 30 minutes. The group who gardened not only reported being in a better mood afterward, but they had lower levels of cortisol, that dreaded stress hormone, in their systems. Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder have found that ordinary garden soil contains a harmless bacteria (Mycobacterium vaccae) which, when injected into mice, actually increased serotonin levels in the parts of the brain that control mood. No prescription necessary, doc…just look at the dirt under these nails!

“I quit therapy because my analyst was trying to help me behind my back.”
…Richard Lewis

The healing power of gardening is powerful stuff. In fact, did you know that you can reap lots of the benefits of gardening just by looking at one? Because human beings inherently find nature engrossing, the brain isn’t taxed by focusing on natural things. Rather, viewing gardens, wildlife or other natural vistas actually reduces mental fatigue. More and more medical centers and hospitals are incorporating healing gardens into their buildings as a means of reducing anxiety and stress and as a way to facilitate healing their patients.

“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
…Mahatma Gandhi

As we find ourselves in the ever-shrinking pocket of time before the holiday season begins, what better time than now to dedicate a little extra time to your garden. Not only will your garden will look better, but your body will feel better and your mind will be clearer. Because the last thing you’d want is to end up just another teary-eyed hippo on Freud’s couch, right?

Happy Gardening,


“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
…Albert Einstein