Gardening saved my life. I have struggled all my life with depression, compounded by a chronic, life-threatening illness diagnosed in my early twenties. In 2011 I had a stem cell transplant to save my life. However, I wouldn’t have survived this long without gardening.
Gardening is therapeutic. If I feel depressed, unmotivated, blah, restless – I garden. It soothes me and I feel stress and ennui melt away as I immerse myself in weeding, planting, pruning or puttering. Smell roses, dig holes, deadhead plants; it all helps improve my mood. It is also physically satisfying. I can wear myself out gardening, but I’ll sleep soundly that night. My back and shoulders may ache, but the deep satisfaction when I look at my accomplishments relaxes those muscles.
The therapeutic value of gardening has been recognized for centuries. Western culture recognized the value of gardening when it was used extensively after WWII as physical and emotional therapy for wounded soldiers. Hospices, hospitals and nursing homes often have therapeutic gardens.
In 1995 a major depressive episode knocked me flat. I was off work for over six months. I couldn’t do math or follow a story. I got lost if I left home, and I couldn’t remember our phone number. I hid from the mailman. I was suicidal and thought I’d lost my mind.
I remembered the beautiful garden of my childhood home. It was a magical place where I felt surrounded by wonder and life. I decided that I needed a space like that. So, I ordered some soil and completely transformed our backyard. This was not without its problems. I couldn’t do math, so the truckful of topsoil I ordered turned out to be about 15 yards in a semi-truck. That’s a lot of dirt. I spent days digging. I moved mountains of soil. I moved some plants so often they should have had wheels. However, the process of creating my own magical space full of beauty and life soothed me. My depression lifted. I got my mind and my life back. Medication and occasional counselling keep the depression at bay, but gardening is the ultimate prescription for me.
If you want to garden, don’t feel you need a yard or money. You can grow an herb garden in a pot on a windowsill. A little planter on your porch can provide you with salad greens. A pot of pansies can cheer you up in the morning with their smiling faces. Most gardeners have extra pots they will gladly give you, and many people are happy to share plants or seeds. If you want some calendula or spearmint plants, I have a few thousand to spare! Garden as if your life depends on it. I do.