I am not someone who would describe myself as having a green thumb. Weekends away, and my co-op life of moving every four months never allowed me the opportunity to care for a garden. I have always been a great appreciator of flowers and people who grow their food but never thought I would be someone who had the time, energy or interest to care for a garden. Then I welcomed the life-changing year of 2020/2021, where I was finally living somewhere permanently during Ontario’s second and third COVID-19 lockdowns, therefore, granting me ample time to give this gardening thing a try.
There are a few reasons that gardening fascinates me. The first is that it is incredible that we can put a tiny seed into the ground, and somehow this seed knows how to take what it needs from the soil, sun, and water to grow into plants 50 times their size, amazing!! Anyway, this is not the awe factor of gardening that I want to dive into today; what inspires me more than the wisdom of a seed is the vast therapeutic potential of gardening.
As a Recreation Therapist, I have spent some time recently putting together this year’s therapeutic garden at work, which has inspired me to reexamine and research gardening’s therapeutic benefits and effects. This care-based gardening investigation also presented a nearly seamless comparison to everyday gardener’s experience and gardening motivation. I have decided not to bore you with research and instead outline the therapeutic benefits I can see emerge through my recreation therapy work and my personal community garden involvement.
- Gardening offers an escape from daily stressors. Whether you are a patient in a hospital dealing with a long list of symptoms or someone who needs an escape from day-to-day stress, gardening can offer a safe space where life’s challenges are not at the forefront of your mind. In the garden, you have a task; you have new things to focus on, allowing more calming thoughts to fill your mind, even if only for a few minutes. Gardening allows a distraction from whatever you need a break from and lets you clear your mind and complete a purposeful task.
- Sunshine and fresh air are good for you!!! (Write that down, please). This is a simple yet crucial pillar of the therapeutic understanding of gardening. Humans need Vitamin D and fresh air for our physical health, and when our bodies feel better, we feel better; therefore, getting outside is crucial for not only your body but also your mind. Whether you are a patient who needs a break from their hospital room or someone who needs a reason to get off the couch, caring for a garden gives a purposeful pursuit that pushed gardeners to get up and go outside. This pandemic has shown me how so many of us are extrinsically motivated; therefore, it can be hard to get out when we have nowhere to go. Needing to water a garden provides a reason to get up, get moving and get some sunshine even when you don’t want to because it’s not just for you; it is for the greater good of your garden.
- People need purpose. Purpose is a powerful component for creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. We all need a reason to get up in the morning, something greater than ourselves connecting us to the world. Gardening can be an excellent source of purpose for anyone dealing with work challenges, loneliness or illness. Gardening can be an accessible, low-risk, (potentially) high reward opportunity for purpose. Especially for my patients living in a hospital, finding reasons to get dressed and get out of bed can be challenging, leading to more health and mood declines. Caring for the garden is a responsibility they are assigned that connects them to other patients and is a familiar chore that brings a sense of normalcy and structure to lengthy hospital stays.
- Community connection. The personal garden I started in a community garden plot in Toronto allows community members to rent a space to grow plants of their choosing in a city that offers limited space for personal gardens. Gardeners chat, share tips and work alongside each other as they sew, tend, water and grow together. I have been tending to my garden for a few weeks, and I have noticed the community amongst gardeners flourish more than any plants. Gardening in a community plot or even in your front yard creates an opportunity to connect with neighbours or community members, and a garden is a great conversation starter.
So, plant a garden, friends, whether it is a big bed full of vegetables or a simple flower in a pot on your kitchen table, I invite you to find purpose, connection, and sunshine through gardening. Watch the miracle of a seed push through the dirt and lose yourself in the simple majesty. Take a break from the stresses of the world because you have to go water the garden. Get outside because you have to go water the garden. Say hello to your neighbour as you water your garden. Let your garden grow more than plants; let it grow you.
Amy is a fresh grad with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. University does not come naturally to a person with a learning disability, making Amy uniquely proud of her undergraduate accomplishments. Amy is working to be more open about her disability and strives to view her learning challenges as an opportunity for growth in resilience and creativity.
She has worked with rehab patients, people with disabilities, veterans and mental health clients searching for more equitable access to community recreation. She believes wholeheartedly in the therapeutic benefit of doing what you love, as often as you can.