What can be more satisfying to the home gardener than picking a juicy red tomato at its peak of flavor and sweetness and taking that first bite? The taste is wonderful, but the feeling of accomplishment that you nurtured that little plant from seed to successful harvest is just as wonderful. Gardening is SO much more than working the soil and producing crops or beautiful flowers. It really is a type of therapy with measurable results.

For many gardeners, the physical act of digging, planting, weeding and harvesting is almost a spiritual thing. It is an activity that can relieve stress, help manage depression and create a sense of progress and accomplishment. And this isn’t something that takes an entire growing season to achieve. While a tomato plant may take months to mature, you can take great pride in seeing an afternoon’s work turn a formerly weedy unkempt flower bed turned into a photo worthy piece of art.

Mindfulness is a recognized technique to reduce stress and improve one’s ability to manage reactions to events. I find that practicing mindfulness in the garden is much simpler than trying to meditate – just simple actions like moving dirt around, transplanting seedlings, or weeding, I am very aware of the plants, their development, any insects in the area, and the sounds of birds and the breeze in the trees around me – focusing on nothing else I am calm and my thoughts are freed up.

For many of us, life in the 21st century is a stressful and frantic thing. Mobile phones, e-mails, deadlines, home and work responsibilities, depressing global and local news reports on TV and radio…it never seems to end! Gardening however can take you to a different place. There are studies that chronicle the mental health benefits of spending time away from your normal day to day routine and embracing a hobby entirely of your own doing. For many of us, that’s gardening. Of course, the physical activity of bending, lifting, stretching and walking is good for body and soul, and so is a healthy diet of fresh organic food!

I’m not a doctor, a scientist or a researcher – and I am certainly not suggesting that gardening is a magical cure for the exhausting battles that come with mental illnesses. But if you are struggling, and your doctor supports it – then try starting an edible garden and see if it helps you at all. I’m just a backyard grower who loves her garden and everything it brings to my life. Without doing any scientific study, I can tell you though, I know a lot of gardeners and they all seem to be pretty content!

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