Caring for plants yields more than beautiful flowers and tasty produce. As they plan, dig, prune and harvest, gardeners are cultivating better physical and mental health. It’s good news that interest in gardening surged during the pandemic. That trend may continue to bloom and bear fruit.

Nature Therapy

Ever experience a stir of pleasant, calming feelings when looking at a garden or pretty view? There’s a reason for that. Countless studies have linked exposure to nature with compelling physical and mental health benefits. Reduction in inflammation and anxiety, a strengthened immune system, an increase in productivity, and even greater creativity are among the benefits.

Digging, hauling, weeding and harvesting provide a full body, functional workout. Associated benefits include increasing body strength, improving heart health and the immune system, reducing stress and sleeping better. Digging around in healthy dirt releases microbes that, when inhaled, can stimulate serotonin production.

The very act of caring for another creature can give a person a sense of purpose. Nurturing a plant from seedling to a mature specimen is a process filled with a series of small tasks that occupy the mind and set an achievable goal. Numerous studies have connected gardening to improved life satisfaction and mood.

Gardening in All Sizes

There are gorgeous, mind-blowing botanical retreats and gardens capable of outfitting a restaurant or florist with their bounty. That’s the extreme. For regular people, gardening can be as simple as a few houseplants or containers on the outdoor patio.

Laurie Broccolo, owner of Broccolo Tree and Lawn Care in Rochester, New York, specializes in planning and transforming spaces into natural gardens and landscapes. She delights in getting others excited about the outdoors, even in small spaces.

For tiny garden boxes, balconies and patios, Broccolo recommends using trellises and plants that drape or climb. With this strategy, a gardener can increase the amount of foliage per square foot in the small area.

“With your small garden, with any garden, you want to see diverse life around the plant,” she says. “Make sure to attract pollinators. Watching beneficial bees is mesmerizing and amazing. You can even grow your hummingbird feeder.”

Attracting pollinators is key if a person aims to grow edible plants. Broccolo shares a story of her daughter, who grew an amazing tomato plant inside her home that was loaded with flowers but never produced tomatoes.

“I reminded her about the basics of the birds and the bees,” Broccolo says with a laugh. “There generally aren’t bees and bugs flying around inside. She ended up using a cotton swab to fertilize the flowers.”

Planting It Forward

Growing plants that produce a tasty treat is a great way to get children involved and interested in gardening. Broccolo recommends ever-blooming hanging strawberry plants. For those with a bit more space, raspberries and blueberries make good options.

“Strawberry flowers are beautiful, and you get a few tasty treats right off the vine,” she says.

Harvesting tasty bites can give children a tangible and delicious reward for their efforts. Beyond providing natural treats, gardening gives youths and adults an activity that brings them together. It also pulls people off their screens while proving that fun can be had outside.

Gardening also helps children channel energy. Similar to adults, the physical act of gardening and the mental act of thinking about caring for another living organism can give children a greater sense of purpose and pride.

Broccolo warns that children usually don’t pick up gardening on their own. Interest comes from the adult who is willing to lead them with enthusiasm.

“It’s the experience of the leader, whether it’s a parent or a teacher, that transitions to kids,” Broccolo says. “Those are the kids who grow up with an interest in plants.”

Staying Grounded

For all its benefits, it can be discouraging when a garden is overrun by weeds and a person does not really understand how to manage the challenge. For natural weed control, Broccolo advises mixing veggies with perennials to crowd out weeds — such as planting purple coneflowers and daisies with tomato plants and several pepper plants. More important, it’s essential that a person start small and realistically consider how much time they have to dedicate to their garden in order to ensure success.

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