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Sally Cunningham

Relieve stress in your garden, as pressures from pandemic increase

“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”

That sentiment, well known to gardeners, came from an early 20th century poet, Minnie Aumonier. It has spoken to me personally, as I have escaped to my garden in times of stress, worry or tiredness, but I am not alone in the feeling.

Gardeners through the ages have written of the benefits of gardening, which have proven to be much more than sentimental and emotional. Science validates that gardening is good for the human body, mind and spirit.

In response to COVID-19, many of us are experiencing new pressures. We have to adapt work, play and habits. Fortunately, gardening is something we can continue to do, and it’s important we do so.

From voices past and present, we receive the message that gardening and being in touch with nature is healthful for us, especially in tough times.

Consider just a few of those voices:

• “Gardening is a labour full of tranquility and satisfaction; natural and instructive, and as such contributes to the most serious contemplation, experience, health, and longevity.” – John Evelyn, 1620-1706 English writer, gardener, diarist.

• “Just for one’s health ... it is very necessary to work in the garden and to see the flowers growing.” – Vincent van Gogh, 19th century Dutch painter.

• “Gardening is the greatest tonic and therapy a human being can have. Even if you have only a tiny piece of earth, you can create something beautiful, which we all have a great need for. If we begin by respecting plants, it’s inevitable we’ll respect people.” – Audrey Hepburn, late actress and humanitarian.

• “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do; especially in the inner city, you get strawberries.” Ron Finley, Los Angeles-based fashion designer known as the “gangsta gardener.”

• “Gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old, because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized.” – Allan Armitage, horticulture professor, University of Georgia, author of numerous gardening reference books.

(For more quotes like these, and essays on gardening, see Teresa Watkins’ “A Gardener’s Compendium” book series.)

With as much breadth and variety as writers and poets, scientists have published findings about the physical and mental health benefits of gardening.

From the Mayo Clinic to the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization, a wide range of field experiments have concluded gardening is beneficial for health – whether physical (heart, nutrition, endocrine and digestive systems) or mental (dementia, memory loss, sleep disorders, depression and perceived stress) among other pathologies.

For thousands of Western New York gardeners, the benefits of gardening are self-evident. We don’t need poets or scientists to tell us. Seeing the first green shoots or daffodils or daylilies produces smiles. On a sunny day, with a hint of spring in the air, simply picking up sticks is exhilarating.

As we go through extra-stressful times, be sure to give ourselves the respite and simple joy of it. Fresh air and sunshine are still free. Gardening doesn’t have to be expensive. Plants can grow from seeds or little seedlings.

Gardening is not competitive and you don’t have deadlines. In sadness or under stress, we can almost always feel better in a garden.

Gardening allows the best “social distancing”: It still takes place outside.

Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.

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