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Digging in the Dirt: The Therapeutic Value of Gardening

On the surface, the subject of gardening appears fairly innocuous, but dig a bit further and what is uncovered is a rich topography of metaphor and meaning that spreads deep and wide.

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
Psychotherapist

Why gardening? It is a question I have been musing over for more than a few weeks as the days are growing longer and summer is in full bloom. Amid all the thoughts roving the terra nova of my consciousness, the act of gardening – excuse the pun, has taken root. By no coincidence, I began to reflect on gardening while standing in line at my local home improvement store, that vast warehouse of do-it-yourself paraphernalia that includes an overabundance of effects designed for the weekend landscaper.

On the surface, the subject of gardening appears fairly innocuous, but dig a bit further and what is uncovered is a rich topography of metaphor and meaning that spreads deep and wide. Arguably, the pragmatic reasons for why people garden are to eat and to improve the curb appeal of their homes. If you survive on the vegetation from your garden or fancy an attractive lawn, it is easy to understand these primary motives. However, why the obsession? Our agrarian way of life ended around the same time industry began seeing dollar signs in the valleys and rivers that shape this region, and we never looked back. Sort of.

According to Christianity, humanity started in a garden. Buddhists create gardens to allow nature to fuse with their surroundings. The Babylonian’s imagined a “garden of the gods.” Almost every major palace and government building has a garden. So why all the attention to something we can only do a few months out of the year based on our temperate climate zone?

I believe one of the reasons people love gardens and the act of gardening is that while we have a desire to progress and develop in a contemporary milieu there is, deep within us, a primordial requisite for human beings to join with nature. In short, we are driven to make something, to grow something, apart from ourselves. Hence, the garden, a small path for nature to reenter our existence becomes that something. Being in nature connects us with our earliest evolutionary development.

Gardens remind us that we still care, and that we are capable of nurturing and cultivating the earth in a peaceful fashion. The garden stands in contrast to our collective, destructive patterns of behavior. Ancient philosophers viewed gardens as a means of self-actualization and enlightenment. Thus, gardening nourishes a natural need within us to create order, structure and beauty. The garden becomes the conduit between the self and the natural world.

From a practical standpoint, gardening is definitely a healthy habit that promotes physical exercise, helps the environment, and improves our diet. So go – get your garden on – weekend warrior. What you may view as a hobby has a history that serves to improve the current state of our individual and collective wellbeing.

Originally posted: http://pghpsychotherapy.com/2012/06/20/digging-in-the-dirt-the-therapeutic-value-of-gardening/

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PghPsych July 25, 2012 at 02:07 PM
James, thank you for your kind words. It seems we often place greater value on the human connections we make during a lifetime while very little, if any, appreciation goes into our engagement with nature. That is to say there is an inequity when it comes to how we view our collective and individual roles as stewards of the planet. Staying connected with oneself, others and nature creates balance and lifelong value. Thanks again and visit my Blog for weekly articles: http://pghpsychotherapy.com/the-healthy-cog-blog/
Isabella Valentine July 27, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I love to garden. Taking a seed, nurishing it and enjoying the bounty is very therapeutic and I do it all in pots on my deck. It's amazing to see a 7ft tomatillo plant in a pot. My first year with the tomatillo and I didn't expect them to get that big. They've been problematic lately with the bad storms as it gets very windy on the deck and the plants have been taking a beating. I had to tie them up some more when I got home from work today. Did it while it was pouring, but I gotta say, it was very therapeutic after a problematic day at work. In fact, I was out there in the rain at around 3 am this moring because the one tipped over. Nothing better than fresh pesticide free vegetables. Mmmmmmm
Dayna August 05, 2012 at 12:07 PM
There is an old country saying that states; " Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatos"...some of us take it to more extremes. Its a way of giving back to nature, calming our inner spirits and connecting with our environment. Its stress management, improved privacy and seeing natures bounty instead of the harsh existence that can sometimes be right outside your private world.
PghPsych August 05, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Isabella - Thanks for your reply and comments, and best of luck with the tomatillos this season.
PghPsych August 05, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Dayna - gardening is certainly one path to finding bliss. Thanks for your comments and best of luck this growing season.

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