There’s a little spring in my step these days.

After a rough couple of weeks, I’m seeing the sun peek out of the clouds in my world. And in real life, too. I can smell spring in the air.

A drive around town shows the garden centres and nurseries starting to ramp up operations for all the gardening crazies like me.

Gardening is one of my escapes, a way to break free from the hustle and bustle of life coaching and workplace wellness training. It’s a time to focus on me and quiet my mind.

I spend my Zen time trimming my shrubs and nurturing beautiful blossoms in the beds around our home.

Reduce stress and get dirty

Kristen K. Brown, author of The Happy Hour Effect: 12 Secrets to Minimize Stress and Maximize Life, says gardening can lift your soul.

By digging through the soil with your hands, you can:

  • Decrease stress
  • Restore your attention
  • Revive your mood

When we use gardening as an act of mindfulness — connecting to the earth and to ourselves — we become more present in our lives, more aware of our surroundings and more responsive to the world around us.

It can also, says Brown, give us a real sense of accomplishment.

It can lead to great satisfaction when those first blooms of spring emerge from the fall-planted bulbs you weren’t sure would grow or when the first ripe tomato is ready for picking.

Of course! I want to try vegetable gardening this year, setting my sights on salad pots and herb baskets. How good will I feel when I grab a few tomatoes off the vine, pick some herbs and whip up a fresh, delicious salad for lunch?

(In the event I’m not as successful as I plan, I will continue to support our local farmers’ markets!)

A sharp hoe, a sharp mind

Some studies suggest the physical activity of gardening can lower our risks of developing dementia. Researchers followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years and found that those who gardened regularly had a 36 and 47 per cent lower risk of dementia, respectively by age group, than non-gardeners.

The researchers suggest the combination of physical and mental activity has a positive influence on the mind.

Therapeutic horticulture is being used around the world to help a variety of groups with mental-health illnesses or developmental disorders. Tim Lang, a professor at the Centre for Food Policy at City University London in the United Kingdom, says horticultural therapy and community gardening can:

  • Contribute to improved social interactions and community cohesion
  • Reduce the occurrence of episodes of stress, and the severity of stress and associated depression
  • Reduce reliance on medication, self-harming behaviour, and visits to psychiatric services, whilst also improving alertness, cognitive abilities and social skills
  • Alleviate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, such as agitation and aggressive behaviour, which can in turn improve circumstances for carers
  • Provide productive manual activity and beneficial social interaction for people tackling drug and alcohol dependency
  • Help people manage the distress associated with mentally challenging circumstances, such as making the end of life more peaceful, sociable and enjoyable for hospice patients

And you thought gardening was just about growing food! It’s amazing what getting dirt under your fingernails can do.

For the rest of us, we revel in a more beautiful environment with fresh-cut flowers in our homes, attract lyrical songbirds to our yards, and improve our nutrition with wonderful herbs and vegetables at the ready.

Going chemical-free

As vital as my time to reconnect with the earth and myself, I endeavour to do it without chemicals, just like our great-grandmothers did. It’s so easy to spray a can of whatever to get rid of the bugs and pests and weeds.

But those chemicals can pollute the soil, the runoff water, the air and our bodies, when we ingest the food we’ve grown. They’re also harmful to birds, bees and our pets.

We can garden free of pesticides. We can make our yards safe for us, our children and our pets.

We can improve our living space with flowers, plants, shrubs and trees and without polluting our environment. We can be a little more self-sufficient with our vegetable gardens while keeping our earth free of harmful toxins.

That’s our topic of discussion at this month’s Conversations In Health at Caffe Motivo, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. I’ve enlisted the help of Elaine Sedgman, master gardener, and Greg Houghton, horticulturalist and ISA-certified arborist, to present Chemical Free – Beautiful Yards and Gardens.

Our community, Kamloops, B.C., has banned the use of chemicals in our yards; so many gardeners are left wondering how to create beautiful yards and bountiful backyard gardens.

We can talk about:

  • Composting for homemade soil
  • What flowers and plants attract beneficial insects
  • How to move toward low to zero water use
  • Small-space and community gardening
  • How earthworms benefit our gardens
  • Companion planting

Where the discussion goes is really up to you. Be sure to bring your questions for Elaine and Greg.

Let’s get the dirt on chemical-free gardening, so we can get our minds clear and our hands dirty!

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