Flower Power: Why Gardening is Good for Your Soul
Caring for plants has helped me feel more connected with my late father and less stressed during the day. It can help you, too.
The older I get, the more I get my parents.
In the past year or so, for example, I’ve started to cultivate a deeper understanding of why my dad loved gardening.
I’ve always known why he said he liked it. Let’s flash back to high school. I was a student, he was a teacher. In the same small school. I managed to go six years and avoid his tutelage, save for one class: public speaking.
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For a teenager, nothing could be worse than taking a class taught by your own parent—it’s incredibly awkward. If you do well in the class, everyone will accuse you of getting preferential treatment. If you do poorly, your parent will be unhappy with you. For a sixteen-year-old kid grappling with typical teenage emotions, it felt flat out embarrassing. But it was a required class, and he was the only teacher, so I had to take it.
Over the course of the semester, we learned about the different types of speeches (e.g. a “how to” speech, a persuasive speech, and so on). Before we began studying each type of speech, my dad would give a demonstration speech, and he was an excellent orator. I don’t remember any of the speeches I gave in his class, but I do remember one of his. Vividly.
The speech was was classified as an “entertaining speech,” which can take many forms but usually relies on an emotional delivery. His speech served as a tribute to his mother, who had passed away a few years earlier. He talked in detail about her love of gardening. That’s why he’d picked up the hobby, and even after she died, he’d used it as a way stay connected with her. I remember being visibly moved by the speech, and I’m sure he noticed. This was the moment the embarrassment I felt about being in my dad’s class disappeared.
One year ago to this day, my wife and I got married in England. During part of the trip, one of her friends was kind enough to let us stay in her home while she was away on vacation. In return, all she asked was for us to water her flowers in her back garden. She had a lot of them, and it wasn’t a task that you knocked out in five minutes. It took a while.
During our stay, I handled the flower watering, and quickly realized that it wasn’t a chore, but a pleasure. We were there for several days, and every day, I enjoyed walking through her garden and tending to all of the flowers, no matter how long it took. It felt incredibly relaxing.
This summer, my wife and I have planted several flowers of our own in pots in our backyard, and I’ve been taking care of them on a daily basis. I especially love taking a few minutes to water them when I’m working from home, which gives me a momentary respite from the typical stresses of professional life.
I’ve not only felt a sense of relaxation through my daily interactions with the plants, but also felt more connected to my father, who passed away more than five years ago. The same way he felt more connected to his mom. And now, I truly understand why he loved gardening.
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Mental health benefits of gardening
Even if you don’t have an emotional connection to the activity, gardening can be beneficial for your mental health. Charles D. Hall, a professor and researcher in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, cites numerous psychological benefits of gardening:
Anxiety and stress reduction
Attention deficit recovery
Enhanced memory retention
Improved happiness and life satisfaction
Mitigation of PTSD
Increased creativity, productivity and attention
Reduced effects of dementia
I’ve personally noted a reduction in stress and in increase in happiness when I tend to our flowers. It feels good to help sustain another life-form, and the plants add beauty to our outdoor space.
Practical tips for gardening at home
If you’d like to start a garden, you don’t have to start big. Even if you’ve only got a small space, you can start with a a few plants. We’ve built up to about ten flower pots in our backyard this year, and I can report with excitement that all of the plants are still alive, despite the hot Texas summer. A few things I’ve picked up:
Follow the directions: Pay close attention to the directions that come with each plant. The amount of sun and shade the plant receives is critical. Some plants do well in full sun, and some need more shade. Keep this in mind when purchasing you plants, particularly in reference to your own space where you’ll be keeping the plants.
Water in the morning: This helps your plants avoid fungal infections and allows more time for the water to soak into the soil, according to information from Iowa State University. If you water during hours of full sun, you’ll lose more to evaporation.
Water at the roots: I thought the plants would like it if I gave them a simulated rain shower, but I was wrong, and’s sister set me straight. You should always water at the roots of the plants. A watering wand helps with this. See my video for more on this:
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Taking care of my little garden has turned out to be an unexpected joy, helping me carry on my dad’s memory and serving as another brick in my wall of defense against anxiety. If you’re looking for ways to reduce stress and anxiety, gardening might help you, too.