By Therese Ciesinski, In The Dirt newsletter editor
Why do we garden? The short answer is gardening makes us happy. The reasons are as individual as the gardener: working the soil, the fresh air and sunshine, being surrounded by nature, looking at beautiful growing things, the pleasure of activity, the sense of accomplishment, growing food, contributing to nature’s handiwork, and on, and on. You get the idea.
What we know instinctively — that nature is good for you — researchers are out to prove empirically. A study in the journal of Landscape and Urban Planning (June, 2015), showed that participants with a tendency to ruminate – to brood over negative aspects of their lives – not only felt better and more positive after a 50-minute walk in nature, they performed better on memory tests, too. Lest you think it was the 50 minutes worth of exercise that did it, another set of test subjects walked for 50 minutes too – along a busy urban thoroughfare. No mood bump.
Researchers can’t be sure that it’s nature that elevated mood in these studies. Maybe it was exercise, or sunlight, or something else. So they tried a different tack. Instead of sending people outdoors, they used photos instead. And it still worked. In fact, just looking at photos of trees improves mood and quiets the anxiety-producing parts of the brain. In studies from VU Medical University in Amsterdam, researchers found that showing test subjects photos of ordinary trees and green areas – not majestic landscapes – lowered stress levels that had been elevated by underperforming on difficult math problems.
This is by far not the only study that has demonstrated the benefits of “green space” (plants) in reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being. A study of 65 to 86 year olds in the city of Vancouver found that being outdoors was therapeutic for both physical and mental health. It seems intuitive that a connection with nature is hard-wired into our brains. Humans evolved around plants and greenery, not concrete and steel.
So what’s the takeaway? Not only that time in the garden is good for you in mind as well as spirit, but if for one reason on another you can’t physically be in the garden, looking at photos on Pinterest or Google might just be the next best thing.