Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
19 Apr

Gardening Is Therapy

It’s been a great weekend here of sun, fun, and PrimalCon of course. In returning to reality yesterday, I was checking the news and seeing some of you out there are bracing for yet another round of winter’s jest. My condolences – seriously. I’ll admit I was happy to forgo the six month long Maine winters for California years ago. Nonetheless, there are still aspects of Northern life I miss and admire. I remember, for example, the almost manic excitement with which people awaited spring. Their fervor for planning the year’s garden seemed wholly inverse to the short and still relatively cool growing season. I don’t know how many of you are gardeners, but I’m all for using the term loosely. Whatever gets us down in the dirt, digging in the midst of all those fine microbes, is work worth doing (without the toxic chemicals of course). An older neighbor of mine (with the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen) always tells me gardening is “good for the soul.” Although I don’t have an ounce of the talent she does, I’d have to agree. It only gets better though. Research demonstrates it’s also good for the mind and body – in ways we might not expect.

Little surprise, I’d say, that researchers in Taiwan found one of the biggest motivations participants cited for gardening was the “escape.” I would venture to guess this is a universal motivation. Life begins in the garden, so they say. The rest – worry, conflict, stress – simply dissolves in the landscape.

In another Netherlands based study, stressed participants were divided into two groups – one which read indoors and one which gardened in their allotment plots. Although both groups demonstrated a drop in cortisol (gardening participants showing a much steeper drop) during their respective activities, the gardening group fared much better in terms of mood, reporting a complete turn around by the end of the experiment.

Want more? In a Texas A&M survey, gardeners reported more physical activity, claimed more energy, and rated their overall health higher than non-gardeners. Those who described themselves as gardeners showed a higher level of life satisfaction than those who said they didn’t garden.

Researchers have particularly honed in on the health impact of gardening for older adults. Numerous studies demonstrate both physical and mental health benefits for older adults, including higher vegetable intake, better hand strength, and higher self-esteem.

Then there’s the dirt itself – oh, the lovely, rich, misunderstood soil. Gardeners and dirt enthusiasts, you know what I’m talking about. The sensory pleasure of soft, cool crumbling between ungloved fingers, the physical, primordial delight of digging and absorbing oneself in the earth. Even if your horticultural results are nothing to write home about (I count myself in this camp), there’s gratification to be found in the endeavor. In the midst of that dark, nitrogen-esque smell, you’re kicking up some potent Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria, known to stimulate serotonin releasing neurons in the brain. Dirt: the natural anti-depressant – literally. We could all use a little more dirt in our lives, I think.

As true gardening enthusiasts will tell you, gardening is so much more than just maintaining the yard (as so many of us grudgingly perform). It’s the sun on your shoulders, the nurturing of seedlings, the thoughtful honing (and pruning) of a creative vision, the witness of a living, growing force. It’s a labor of love and – for many – a show of true artistry. Gardening is a deeply sensory experience, and I think it touches something innate in the human spirit – the need for nature, to be sure, but something else as well. We evolved knowing the land, identifying with our home terrain (even within the context of roaming short distances for better hunting and gathering potential). We developed an intimate connection not with nature as a concept but with the specific land that nurtured and challenged us. Knowledge of our terrain was power – for foraging and survival. When we devote ourselves to gardening, I think we recreate that close association, that intimate understanding of the land, that raw, unsentimental mixing of earth and effort. It’s an endeavor so different from our everyday lives in this age. An escape, indeed.

Gardeners, gardener wannabees, aimless but well-intentioned putterers of the backyard, what say you? Are you chomping at the bit or already elbow deep in the soil? What do you enjoy the most? How do you see your gardening/farming ventures in the context of your Primal life? Thanks for reading today.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I so want a garden. Those of you that are able to have one make sure you don’t take it for granted!

    Jonathan wrote on April 19th, 2011
  2. “Gardening is Therapy.” Heh, not for me. I’ve hated yard work and gardening, with a passion, ever since I mowed my first yard and pulled my first weeds in Dad’s garden.

    I’d rather take a beating with a wet knotted rope as even look at a garden. The produce section of the grocery store is as close to the activity I get.

    Phocion Timon wrote on April 19th, 2011
  3. I hated gardening for years but since moving into my partners and my new place I have gained a real Passion for it. We have 4 years of disuse and abandonment to clear currently and we Are making good headway with that. It’s a big job but it’s therapeutic and instant result! I can’t wait to get home from my prison (job) each day and spend some time working and clearing the canvas for what will be our beautiful garden full of tropical plants and foods!!!

    Nade wrote on April 19th, 2011
  4. I told the wife a few weeks ago that I want to start a patio garden. I’ve been researching methods, dirt, plants, etc. Some good channels on YouTube for gardeners.

    I hope to have the herb and lettuce growing soon.

    Julian wrote on April 19th, 2011
  5. gardening makes me feel very rooted.
    although there’re more weeds than flowers right now, cause i dont’ use herbicide or insecticide as much as possible.
    most of my plants are xeri but still hand weeding takes too much trouble.

    PHK wrote on April 20th, 2011
  6. I can’t wait to move out of my condo and buy a place that has a garden ready yard! Herbs in planters are fun but there’s nothing like that feeling if dirt in your fingers, great read!

    Nutritionator wrote on April 20th, 2011
  7. This is such a timely post. Although I live in an apartment in the city, I grow what I can, everything from sprouts in the winter, to tomatoes and herbs in the summer. It’s amazing what you can do with such little space. Ah, and digging around in the dirt with my fingers. Makes a grokess feel more grounded :)

    Hanna wrote on April 20th, 2011
  8. I love love love my little garden… It’s nothing major… but the more I work in it, the bigger garden I want. Watching things grow is truly theraputic and I love it. :)

    Jeanna wrote on April 20th, 2011
  9. I whole-heartedly agree! I was a landscaper for three years and it was the most meaningful job I’ve ever had. If only it would pay the bills, I never would have quit!
    I would wake up at 0400 and get to see the sunrise every morning. I got to smell the early morning dew and the wet soil. I felt the cool ocean breeze turn into a warm summer day (yes, I worked right on the ocean). And, of course I got to listen to the birds and the breeze and the ocean lapping and the rocks nearby.
    But most of all, I got to nurture gardens and treat each plant with the care and respect they deserve to reach their full potential. I got dirty, sweaty, and exhausted and I felt rewarded at the end of each day.
    I would plant seedlings and see them grow 10 feet tall. I would mix fiery red with deep blue and soft lilac.
    Needless to say, I did not have to think, I just felt.
    I have recently began gardening again because I couldn’t resist the pull. I needed to feel that again, and it’s coming back to me.

    Liz wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • That sounds beautiful. I couldn’t “make a living” gardening, but I can cut down my bills at least. Still, you make being a landscaper sound lovely.

      Sheila wrote on April 20th, 2011
  10. I used to have a big veggie garden, but now I live in a commercial building, and I have been experimenting with a potted veggie garden with various degrees of success for several years. This year, I’m attempting to garden indoors near a south-facing window supplemented by grow lights and carrying buckets of collected rainwater up the stairs. Wish me luck!

    Rose Rose Winland wrote on April 20th, 2011
  11. I’m fairly amused that gardening (agriculture) is such a popular hobby among hunter-gatherer Groks. :-)

    That being said, I love gardening! One personal rule I’ve had in cutting through a lot of debate about food is simply this: “Can I grow it in my backyard?” Subject, of course, to the caveat that I can’t afford enough land in LA to graze a cow… but conceptually I COULD raise a cow. But it works on most other things… greens, berries, grapes, root crops vs. hard to process grains and my massive failure at growing corn.

    jj wrote on April 20th, 2011
  12. Aah Dirt… As a kid I used to eat it. Not any old dirt but dark rich top soil. Even to this day the smell of good dirt sets my mouth to watering. :)

    Ron wrote on April 21st, 2011
  13. Mark thank you – that was a very eloquent tribute to gardening and I wholeheartedly agree. Have been gardening in a small plot for years. Just built a cold frame and already planted some lettuces. Paid to have trees cut down to get more light, and planning on expanding my plot and getting into home canning. Gardening is the best – for those who are new at least Plant some basil or other herbs on your deck or windowsill.. Best of luck to fellow primal folks with their efforts

    Mark Koch wrote on April 21st, 2011
  14. Mark,

    I’m the Associate Publisher of Rodale’s Organic Gardening Magazine.

    I’m also Grok!

    Great to see this post on your site. Let me know if I can ever contribute in some way.

    Jeff wrote on April 22nd, 2011
  15. I love the smell of dirt! We just moved this week into our own place after months of staying with in-laws while we searched. Huge backyard. Raised beds already there. Seeds ordered. Garden, here I come! Hooray!

    Dawn wrote on April 22nd, 2011
  16. What great thoughts, Thanks so much. This helps a lot in helping me understand good items to gift to people interested in health.

    Brianna Olds Social Media Marketing Manager

    Brianna Olds wrote on April 24th, 2011
  17. Gardening is a form of meditaiton

    Jason Martin wrote on May 9th, 2011
  18. Wonderful article….I’m having to make do with containers outside of first 2 FEMA trailers and now a small apt, since my Katrina/Rita wipeout…but soon hoping to relocate and reestablish composting, organic growing I actually used to do on a large city lot. This time, however, looking to go deep rural. It can’t come soon enough for me.

    dotsyjmaher wrote on April 22nd, 2012

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!