Why to start a garden

In my adult life I have been notoriously bad at keeping houseplants alive. When I lived in the city, my friends started giving me cut flowers instead of plants for gifts as they knew that I couldn’t kill them: they were already dead. When we were preparing to sell our century home in the downtown city core I even bought fake flowers to stick into the garden, as my attempts to grow foliage was a disaster. A neighbor took me under her green wing and brought over some plants to fill in my barren, and tiny, front yard for the open house.

Fast forward a year and a half later and we now live on a 100 acre farm in a rural small town close to nothing but other small towns. When we initially moved to the farm, friends laughed as they said now I could not only kill house plants, but also a hundred acres of living beings. Surprisingly though, the joke has been on me. Here I cannot kill anything outside – it all grows of its own accord. The weeds are monstrous and the perennial flowers battle them fiercely. If you don’t plant a crop (or your equipment breaks down resulting in spilling your entire amount of crop seeds into ¼ of the crop fields) then something WILL grow. The grass, weeds and trees literally burst and bloom overnight. I honestly see a difference in growth from morning to night. It is inspiring and incredible.

Last spring, I was too ambitious and ended up disappointed, but this year will be different. I have decided not to “go big or go home” but instead just to START. It won’t be perfect. I will make mistakes: probably a lot. Some veggies may live and some may be eaten by bugs, but I am going to start it and finish it. With a little bit of work, sunshine and luck, I hope to reap some bounty for our family, get the kids engaged and know it is OK to learn as you go, and get some fresh air while exercising.

So, if you are like me and desperately want to be a green thumb but have yet to start, here are my “Top 10 Reasons to Start a Garden”!

1. Healthy Food – Right at Your Backdoor

You know what is in your backyard and what you are putting into your garden. With the growing concerns about various chemicals used in the food supply chain and their effects, there is a high demand for organic produce. Additionally, fresh vegetables are 50% higher in nutrients than their long traveled cousins. When you have your own garden you can ensure that your family gets fresh food that is thoroughly safe and is the most ‘local’ you can get!

2. Exercise with Your Eggplant

Gardening is an excellent form of exercise and includes both cardio and aerobic exercise. Research shows that you can burn up to 300-400 calories an hour with moderate gardening. Gardening requires various poses with stretches, muscle tension and walking movements: these all add up to a serious workout while tending to your patch.

3. Save Mounds of Money

Who’s kidding who? The cost of food, especially organic produce is going up. A garden allows for fresh and great tasting organically grown food that is a pittance of the price you’d pay at the grocery store (one seed is between 3-10 cents). If you plan well, you can have food for not only the summer and early fall months, but also throughout the winter months. Make sure you investigate canning and jarring to lock in those goodies: once you get the hang of it, it is relatively easy (just a little time consuming up front). Also, beets, apples, onions and squash are easily stored in cool dark places for winter use.

4. Picture Perfect

A house flowing with lovely foliage of flowers and vegetables is a pleasure to view. The richness of growing plants: flowers or a vegetable garden are soothing and appealing. Make a little bench or a sitting area close by so you can stop and smell the roses…or beans.

5. Benefit Children’s Development

Numerous studies have shown that garden-based education improves academic performance and may lead to higher test scores (especially in the areas of math and science) with overall improvement on standardized achievement tests and improved positive attitudes toward learning.* Also, teaching children to garden gives them immeasurable life skills of independence and sustainability while encouraging them to eat more vegetables as well. The daily activity in the garden can become an excellent family time that is a communal project to encourage team building and independent skills.

6. Expanding Horizons

Gardening is a great way to expand your horizons. Try planning a vegetable you have never tried and see what you think when it is in full growth. Actively meet other gardeners through garden clubs, plant organizations, and gardening websites to swap seeds and get informed. Share the successes and mistakes!

7. Personal Time

Gardening provides an outlet for your own personal time. It is not an arbitrary place or date (like: “I should go to the gym sometime”); it is real and in your face. Take the time for yourself to decompress and have a place to go to just let thoughts flow and your mind wander. If the butterflies can do that, so can YOU!

8. Back to Green Basics

When you have your hand in the dirt and take a small seed and gently nurture it to grow into food for your family, there is a heightened sense of connection with nature, and the planet. The fact that you are growing a garden is reducing huge carbon footprints, taking the GMO aspect out of the food chain and gives the soil a boost back of nitrogen when the compost is mulched in the fall. It also heightens the appreciation for how precious food really is and brings back an age old art (there are Egyptian tombs with gardening information on them!).

9. Healing Herbs

Did you know that there are now Horticultural Healers? Gardens play an important part in our well being and in fact horticulture has been employed as a staple therapy for many centuries. For example, many wounded soldiers, as part of therapy, are instructed to spend time in the garden for healing purposes. The beauty of nature can have an uplifting effect especially when combined with the physical stress release. Gardening has been proven to reduce stress, anger, depression and pain levels and enhance productivity and problem solving skills.**

10. Sense of Achievement

Setting your mind to embark upon a task with obvious and edible results can have a huge effect upon self satisfaction and feelings of personal growth (no pun intended). Like cooking, where you see the fruits of your labor, gardening produces tangible evidence of your investment in time and energy.

So go ahead and start working a small patch of earth. By doing so, will lend a helping hand to our planet and join the millions around the world who toil and feel more connected as a result.

*Center for Ecoliteracy – Findings from the Edible Schoolyard Study, 2003; Smith and Motsenbocke, 2005, Lieberman & Hoody, 1998, Dirks & Orvis, 2005.

**Agnes E. Van den Berg & Mariëtte H.G. Custers, Journal of Health Psychology (2010) Epub ahead June 3rd 2010.