Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Therapy in the Dirt

Why gardening is a psychological upper



Feeling cooped up? Cabin feverish? Climbing the walls? You are so not alone. The days may be lengthening, but frigid weather still puts the kibosh on romping in the borders; average lows this time of year hover around 32 degrees, and it’s possible that a blizzard could dump a foot or more of the white stuff as late as mid-April. After six merciless months of confinement, it stands to reason that sanity-wise, you’re hanging by a thread.

That’s why God invented spring (late spring, actually), and it can’t come too soon, especially for those of us—and we are legion—who are caught in the teeth of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mental malady having everything to do with latitude. In New England, where winter daylight is in short supply, over 20 percent of the population suffers from mild-to-serious depression, whereas in balmy Florida—i.e., closer to the equator, with ample daylight pretty much year-round—it’s a scant one percent. Small wonder, then, that as soon as things warm up around here, gardeners, with yelps of joy, will gallop outside every chance they get.

OK, no surprises there. Everyone knows that gardening, the number-one outdoor leisure activity in the United States, is a psychological upper. But the reasons why this is so may not be immediately apparent. One theory is that when sunshine is limited, as in winter, the biological clock—which regulates mood, energy levels, and the ability to concentrate—slows down,
with vexatious results (viz. crankiness, lethargy, wool-gathering). The opposite is true in summer, when prolonged sunshine “resets” the biological clock, thereby restoring our vim and vivacity.

Just being in a garden seems to have salutary effects, according to a study conducted at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Investigators measured the heart rate and blood pressure of 137 visitors, both before and after their visit. The longer visitors lingered in the garden, the more their blood pressure fell.

But speculation and observation aren’t hard evidence as to the mechanics of this mirth-making phenomenon. It’s not genius material to say that foraging in the flowers banishes the blues. It’s the scientific how of it—that is, what exactly causes this chirpiness—which has long been a mystery.

All that changed in 2007 with the publication, in the journal Neuroscience, of the startling findings of a team of researchers at the University of Bristol in England. Based on experiments with mice, the scientists discovered that a harmless soil organism called Mycobacterium vaccae, when injected into the rodents, increased serotonin levels in the brain, producing an antidepressant effect.

Neuroscientist Christopher Lowry, lead researcher in the study, and his colleagues concluded that being exposed to the bacterium, and its mood-elevating properties, may well be the chief reason that gardeners—who are constantly digging in the dirt—are so very jolly. (A germ. Who knew?)

But that’s not all. Since M. vaccae is also to be found in the air, in water sources, and on vegetables, it follows that simple activities such as ambling in a park—witness the Cleveland Botanical Garden study—or wading in a stream, or consuming home-grown beets, likewise can perk up one’s state of mind. (This could also explain why, according to various studies, there’s less mental illness in rural areas than in cities.)

Most gardeners know from experience the extent to which a dose of weeding at the end of a difficult day is just what the doctor ordered; the peacefulness of it, the palliative monotony, the losing track of time, melts away stress and eases the troubled mind. Put another way, you could say that gardening does the work of tranquilizers, but without the side effects.

In other words, gardening is therapeutic and has been recognized as such, around the globe, throughout history. Here in the U.S., gardening has been used as a form of psychological treatment for over 200 years, leading to a branch of behavioral science known as horticultural therapy. In 1798, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a pioneer in psychiatric medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (and signatory of the Declaration of Independence), found that “digging in the garden” helped mentally ill patients to recover from their disorders. In the 1940s, horticultural therapy was used in veterans hospitals to care for returning servicemen who were traumatized during World War II. And in 1955, Michigan State University became the first institution to confer a graduate degree in horticultural therapy.

Today, horticultural therapy is employed in mental health facilities across the country. Such a facility is Silver Hill, a psychiatric hospital in New Canaan, where a gardening program was developed to give patients who are medically stable, but not yet ready to go home, the life skills they will need to function at work, and within their families. Among these skills is communicating effectively with others, learning to become responsible, and managing their own lives.

The program, called “Let’s Get Growing,” is headed up by Gail Zaremba, a master gardener and horticultural therapist who earned her certification at the New York Botanical Garden’s continuing education department. “Gardening is very creative, very sensual, very life-affirming,” she says. “It’s so easy to be successful, which is extremely important to the self-esteem of patients.”
To guarantee that success, instead of having a traditional garden, which could be overwhelming, Zaremba established a container garden where patients plant 30 large pots with a wide range of vegetables and herbs, such as tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, and lavender. “The residents get to touch, smell, and taste the plants,” she continues. “Late in the season, they see the fruits of their labors—harvesting, cooking, and eating the very vegetables they’ve grown. This is a real team effort. It’s so rewarding to watch the residents get better—they blossom while they’re growing. You literally see the sparkle come back into their lives.”

This seasonal blossoming is equally true for those who love nothing more than playing in the dirt, but who, because the days are still shorter than the nights, may continue to be in a light-deprived funk. (That’s me. At least, it was.)

On this score, I’m thrilled to report, there’s a quick fix for what ails us: a light box, which mimics natural light but filters out harmful UV rays. Last fall, a psychiatrist friend suggested I purchase such a device, which cost around $130 and is roughly the size of a computer monitor. I placed it on my desk in the vicinity of my face, turned it on each morning for the recommended 10 minutes, et voila! Three days later I was jauntiness itself, filled with vigor and optimism, and, for the first time since the summer, I felt like a normal person. I haven’t missed a day since.

Gotta say, the box has been my salvation; now, I can face the winter without dread. And then, when Memorial Day rolls around, I can put the light box away, go outside, plunge my hands in the soil, and resume my favorite form of therapy—gardening. It’s free. It’s reliable. It works. I ask you: how great is that?

Add your comment:

Connect With Us

             

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Profiles

Your Guides to Leading Local Professionals

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

November 2018

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us for a FREE lecture! Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults. However, the fear of falling doesn’t need to rule your life. Learn strategies for preventing falls and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stamford Health Tully Health Center
32 Strawberry Hill Court
1st Floor Auditorium
Stamford, CT  06902
View map »


Sponsor: HSS Sports Rehab
Telephone: 203-705-2933
Contact Name: Pamela Villagomez
Website »

More information

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Wednesday, November 14th at 4:00 PM. Open to all ages. Decorate an apple with candy to make it look like a turkey! This event is free and no registration is required. Co-sponsored with the NS...

Cost: Free

Where:
Ruth Keeler Memorial Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take a behind-the-scenes, private tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition Jewelry: The Body Transformed with Curator of American Decorative Arts, Beth Carver Wees. Followed by lunch and...

Cost: Member price: $50 Non-Member price: $60

Where:
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenune
New York, NY   10028
View map »


Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555

More information

Join Laura’s brother Jan, and singers Diane Garisto and Kate Ferber for an evening of live music, stories and videos of this Rock & Roll Hall of Fame trailblazer.   Laura Nyro, posthumously...

Cost: 50.00

Where:
Bedford Playhouse
633 Old Post Road
bedford, NY
View map »

More information

914INC. will host its annual Women in Business Luncheon, to be held in conjunction with the magazine’s Q4/Winter issue, showcasing leading area businesswomen.

Cost: Single Ticket: $85 / Table of Ten: $800

Where:
DoubleTree by Hilton
455 South Broadway
Tarrytown, NY  10591
View map »


Sponsor: 914INC and Westchester Magazine
Website »

More information

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Friday mornings from 10:30 to 12:30. Free, no registration. Open to adults and older teens. Participants are asked to bring their own supplies in, but some basic supplies will be provided by the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Ruth Keeler Memorial Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Meet us under the Dome and catch all the excitement! Come out for the 16th Annual Festival of Trees to benefit Ann’s Place at the Danbury Sports Dome for a weekend filled with live events...

Cost: Ages 3 to 64, $10; Seniors, $5; kids under 3, free.

Where:
Danbury Sports Dome
25 Shelter Rock Ln
Danbury, CT  06810
View map »


Sponsor: Ann's Place
Telephone: 203-790-6568
Contact Name: Michelle Frosch
Website »

More information

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Meet us under the Dome and catch all the excitement! Come out for the 16th Annual Festival of Trees to benefit Ann’s Place at the Danbury Sports Dome for a weekend filled with live events...

Cost: Ages 3 to 64, $10; Seniors, $5; kids under 3, free.

Where:
Danbury Sports Dome
25 Shelter Rock Ln
Danbury, CT  06810
View map »


Sponsor: Ann's Place
Telephone: 203-790-6568
Contact Name: Michelle Frosch
Website »

More information

Saturday, November 17th from 12:00 - 3:00 PM for kids K+. Plan on staying with your children and having fun together.   This year’s annual STEAMFEST will feature Mad Science’s special...

Cost: Free

Where:
Ruth Keeler Memorial Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
View map »


Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

More information

Wise financial planning includes getting up to date values for jewelry, watches and other valuables tucked away in jewelry boxes and safe deposit boxes. To make an appointment for a complimentary...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
Website »

More information

Westchester Oratorio Society, Artistic Director Benjamin Niemczyk, opens its 21st season with a concert entitled, “An Evening with Bach” at the South Salem Presbyterian Church,...

Cost: $15 to $50

Where:
South Salem Presbyterian Church
111 Spring Street
South Salem, NY  10590
View map »


Sponsor: Westchester Oratorio Society
Telephone: 800 838 3006
Contact Name: Joe Spallina
Website »

More information

Molsky’s Mountain Drifters brings tradition steeped in possibility. The grace and wisdom of longtime fiddle player and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Molsky, described as “an absolute...

Cost: $25, $40, $55, $70

Where:
Rosen House Music Room
Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
149 Girdle Ridge Rd
Katonah, NY  10536
View map »


Sponsor: Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts
Telephone: 914-232-1252
Website »

More information

On November 3rd, Heather Gaudio Fine Artis set to open “Room for Play,” a group exhibition featuring works by Ellen Carey, Deborah Kass, Robert...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags