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The Unlikely Relationship Between Gardening, Well-Being, and the Environment

Published on March 29, 2023

blog Innovation Trending

The Unlikely Relationship Between Gardening, Well-Being, and the Environment

I remember playing baseball on my school field. During breaks, I would point my finger toward my apartment complex (I live right next door to the school) and excitedly tell my friends, “That’s my house!” Seeing the confused looks on their faces as they struggled to discern which of the 300 apartments was mine, I said, “The one with the balcony overgrown with all those plants.” Populated by Malabar chestnuts, heliconias, palms, and pink and white bougainvilleas whose vines reach down to the apartment below, my balcony resembles a mini forest. The number of nests we find there is proof enough of how homey our balcony is for birds.

Since we live in the city, this was the most one could do. When the pandemic broke out, I started watering the plants to help around the house. It was one of the most relaxing activities of my day amidst the chaos of online school and the anxiety of being cooped up at home.

It calmed me to walk back and forth from the kitchen with the heavy dark green watering can in my hand, tip it over, and listen to the soothing sound as the water hit the damp earth. The routine forced me to get up and move my body after sitting in a chair all day. In those moments, I forgot about the work going through my mind, my phone, or the TV and was just there. I also noticed other apartments. I could not spot more than one or two lonely potted plants lying unkempt on neighboring balconies. The lack of plants made it clear that most people were unaware of the many benefits that gardening has for us

Many online resources describe the positive impact gardening can have on our lifestyle and well-being. Many have noted that gardeners eat better and consume more fibre. Many have also explained gardeners’ likeliness to be in a better mood since physical activity releases endorphins (the hormone that helps relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve a person’s overall well-being). Direct contact with the sun can also provide them with an additional supply of vitamin D!

These discoveries have led to the development of a new concept: Community gardens. As the name suggests, community gardens are places where people garden together. They represent a promising nature-based lifestyle intervention. According to an article published in The Lancet Planetary Health, community gardening offers “structural opportunities for eating healthy diets and being active.” These gardens are also a “refuge from everyday stressors and a way to enhance ecological connections.” Components of a community garden project include proximity to nature, access to tools for growing, eating, and sharing food, opportunities for outdoor physical activity, and a network of neighbours who share an interest in gardening.

The article describes an experiment conducted to measure the effects of community gardening on a person’s diet, physical activity, and anthropometric results. The results were promising and confirmed the author’s hypothesis.

For example, the study found that participation in community gardening led to more physical activity than the average American. It was discovered that randomizing the community garden groups reduced stress and anxiety levels, with the greatest reduction seen in those with higher levels of these at the beginning of the study. Having baseline stress and anxiety behaviors and experiences can help to prevent cancer and other chronic conditions.

In addition, in assessing the effectiveness of the study, the authors compared their findings to another qualitative study in which “gardeners cited greater accessibility to fruits and vegetables, better taste and freshness of garden produce, an emotional connection to homegrown food, enjoyment of eating garden produce together, and a desire not to waste food as reasons for eating garden produce.” The authors conclude that community garden networks are “multi-component interventions that could reduce risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases and promote wellness worldwide.”

Over the past 250 years, humans have released large amounts of CO2 emissions and other heat-trapping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by burning coal, oil, and natural gas in power plants, cars, homes, and factories. The accumulation of these gases has led to a rapid rise in the Earth’s average surface temperature. Global warming will continue to accelerate in the coming decades unless we curtail the pollution responsible for it. This is where gardening comes in. 

Planting trees and other plant species significantly increases the absorption of CO2. Trees can absorb and store up to a ton of CO2 from the environment. For example, one study found that each of the 85 million American households that planted just one young shade tree in their yard or community would absorb over two million tons of CO2 per year! Planting shade trees near your home can also help you save money on cooling in the summer.

The link between gardening and mitigating climate change is a surprise to many. But the growing numbers of studies are confirming this belief. Indeed, many of the impacts of global warming extend to gardening. Some of the associated changes include:

  • Rising temperatures and fluctuating precipitation patterns cause plants to flower earlier. This results in unpredictable growing seasons. Heat-loving plants such as tomatoes are also suffering from the intensified hot climate.
  • Invasive and non-native plant and animal communities (such as kudzu, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife) are spreading. This rapid growth in their populations is threatening weaker ecosystems and native species.
  • Important connections between pollinators, breeding birds, insects, and other wildlife and the plants they depend on are disrupted.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” These changes in our environment and ecosystems are warning signs. We need to take more effective action to reduce our carbon emissions drastically. Below are some alternative suggestions from the National Wildlife Federation on how we can contribute to the movement to protect our planet and not compromise our gardening habits.

  • Improve your energy efficiency: using energy-efficient appliances and reducing energy consumption in your home can lower your carbon footprint. You can replace outdoor light bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs, install automatic timers for outdoor lighting, or purchase solar-powered garden products for your yard/balcony.
  • Reduce water use: there are several ways to reduce water use in your garden, especially during extended heat waves and droughts. Mulching, building rain barrels, changing your watering schedule, and using drip irrigation are examples.
  • Compost kitchen and garden waste: by composting these wastes, you reduce your contribution to carbon pollution, especially methane, a potent greenhouse gas. They are also an excellent source of nutrients for your plants and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Gray water reuse is also a great technique you can use. It involves treating wastewater from appliances such as dishwashers, showers, and sinks to reuse for flushing or gardening.

These are excellent examples and strategies to step in the right direction. The threat of climate change and global warming hovers over our heads, but we can remedy it, one helpful deed at a time. Whether you live in the city or the country or have a large garden or a small balcony, I urge you to make the most of your space and plant a garden. Although few people realize or understand it, gardening has much to offer our well-being and our planet. I hope this blog post has helped provide some insight into the wonderful possibilities of gardening. Let us make the most of it together!

By Eedha Kaul | Oberoi International School

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