Need some inspiration for the New Year? Need to find a way to follow up on that resolution to exercise more? Did your doctor tell you to find a way to relieve your stress? All of these problems can be accomplished by doing a little (or a lot) of gardening.

The healthful benefits of gardening are many, and almost anyone, regardless of ability, can realize some of them. Gardening can stimulate all the senses. The smell of earth, the many scents of flowers and aromatic foliage can evoke strong emotions and memories. The feel of the sun or fog or breeze and the variety of textures on leaves, bark, and fruits all stimulate the sense of touch. Even in an urban area, the rustle of the wind in the trees along the street, the cheep and peep of birds, and insects and frogs that somehow manage to find a niche in our gardens can provide a refreshing relief from the bustle of traffic and too-close neighbors. Inspiration, indeed.

The physical activity required by gardening and yard work can make a significant contribution to overall health. Stretching, lifting, and all the other repetitive motions associated with raking, digging, and planting are as good as many exercise programs at building strength, endurance, and flexibility. The benefits of regular exercise include reduction in the risk of serious diseases such as heart disease, adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Weight loss, relief from depression, and maintenance of bone density through weight-bearing exercise are all possible by-products of a gardening workout that won’t even feel like that much work.

Scientists have recently shown that just looking at plants and landscapes can reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and relieve muscle tension. Take a moment right now; look out the window at the nearest green, growing plant; contemplate its color, form, and texture. See how its stems and leaves are organized; imagine how its root system supports it all. Here is a complex living being that can actually make its own energy from the sun! If the scientists are right, you’re already feeling better than you were when you started reading this paragraph.

Gardens need not be large; they may consist of only a potted plant or two on the windowsill or balcony. The benefits come from nurturing and caring for another living thing. Observing the growth and development of plants will foster a link to nature at large. Gardening also fosters a sense of responsibility and connection to the world outside ourselves that is increasingly lacking in a culture driven by commercial interests. Not only your own health and happiness but that of the community at large may be improved by the relatively simple act of planting a seed and helping it grow.

What is planted in the garden doesn’t really matter. It’s the planting and watering and enjoying your accomplishment that really counts. So, get growing!

January Tips

• Plant bareroot trees and shrubs.

• Plant spring-flowering bulbs.

• Cut back perennials such as Tagetes, Salvia, and Leonotis for bushy new growth.

• If you had peach leaf curl last year, apply dormant spray oil when all leaves have fallen.

• Prune deciduous fruit trees and roses.


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