I am an obsessive compulsive gardener and I am totally biased because I genuinely believe we can save the world with gardening. Literally. We need to start by saving ourselves first on an individual level, and then we scale it out to where we can bring about world peace! Saving ourselves with gardening is easy and obvious. Gardening provides us with exercise, with relaxation, it provides us with physical and mental health, and it also gives us optimal nutrition when we grow our own fruits, veggies and herbs.
You know, if you spend a full day in the garden, that gardening uses all your major muscle groups. I certainly know, because when I come in, everything hurts. The interesting thing is, researchers tell us we can swap a 30-minute gym workout, for a 45-minute session in the garden. So, if you have your own garden, you have your own 24/7 gym, with no membership fees and no trying to look good in lycra or active wear. We all feel stressed and we look for ways to relax. Gardens give us both passive and active ways to manage our stress. I want you to think of yourself at the end of a tough day at work. Perhaps you’ve been stuck in traffic for a couple of hours,or you’re just going through a rough patch in life. I want you to imagine yourself in a beautiful garden. I want you to feel your shoulders drop as the tension and weight of the world slips away. Take a deep breath and feel your heart rate slow down. Gardens can be a sanctuary from our fast-paced crazy lives. And if you’ve had a really tough day at work, get out your secateurs, and take out your frustrations on something that needs pruning.
I have to admit I have some plants I brutalized last autumn, and they’re never coming back. The evidence is clear: gardening is great for our physical health. The benefits range from improved medical outcomes and faster recovery rates, to lower our blood pressure. Some researchers actually suggested that we should have a recommended daily allowance of gardening. I’d actually like to prescribe it for everyone. Two hours of gardening per day for each and every one of us, and we could significantly reduce heart disease and other chronic illnesses. But, you’ve got to get your hands in the soil. There’s a naturally occurring soil bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae, which when you ingest it, triggers serotonin release in your brain. That’s your own happy pill. Do you know the best thing about soil? It’s that you can self medicate, and you can lower the dose.
There’s a growing body of research that shows us that gardening can help prevent mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression by helping us to deal with stress before it becomes an issue. And if it does become an issue, gardening can be used to treat it. Can you believe that half of us, 51% of us, use social media as a way to manage our stress? Do you think that works? I don’t think so. I think it makes you more stressed, depressed and isolated.
Now, visualize a seed. What could be more optimistic than planting a seed? Norwegian researchers took patients with moderate to severe depression and let them do a three-month gardening course. At the end of that course, all patients had reduced symptoms. I want you to think back to your childhood, playing in the back garden. Did you climb trees? Did you make cubbies? Did you play in the mud? Did you make daisy chains? The sad fact is that few kids today get those same experiences, with children spending four and a half to five hours a day in front of a screen, yet only two hours a day outside. Is it any wonder why 25% of them are classified as obese or overweight? And 14% have been diagnosed with mental illness, such as ADHD. As the worldwide nature play movement tells us, we need to replace screen time with green time and sunshine.
Let’s expand our focus out from ourselves and our loved ones and families to our backyards. I want you to visualize your backyard as it is now. But we’re going to start at the ground level, with the soil. If you’re growing your own veggies, are you know how important good soil is, and you’re making your own compost. That simple act takes food scraps away from the dump where they rot and then produce methane, which has 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Adding compost to your soil turns your soil into a sponge,it helps to retain moisture in the soil. That makes your plants grow better. That makes your veggies taste better. And it also feeds the billions of living creatures that live in the soil, including amazing bacteria that stock carbon. It’s extraordinary, in one teaspoon of healthy garden soil there are as many units of life as there are people on the planet. Let’s look around your backyard. Let’s look at all the plants in your garden. Look up from the soil. You’ll see veggies, you’ll see flowers, you’ll see horn shrubs and trees. All plants store carbon, helping to slow global warming and save the planet.
And when you’re growing your own veggies, suddenly, food miles become food meters. Look at the shady trees and vines. If they’re deciduous and planted as part of a sustainable house and garden design, what they’re doing is shading your house in summer and letting the precious winter sunshine and warmth in in winter. This passive cooling and heating of your home reduces your energy consumption. And as an added bonus those leaves can be recycled into compost. Look around your garden. See the birds whip by? See the butterflies too? Hear the birds singing and listen to the bees. Backyards can be a biodiversity hotspot. At a time when urban habitat is under threat,every urban garden makes a huge difference. One of the things about gardening is as you get good at it,you invariably end up with more produce than you can use,and this leads to sharing. At a time when many city people don’t know their neighbors, sharing produce, seeds, cuttings and plants helps to build new healthy relationships and connections. As a saying goes,”When life gives you lemons, get to know your neighbors. “Or something like that. Organized fruit and veggie swaps expand this out to a wider group of people. And community gardens are important here too.
These gardens are a hub for the sharing of knowledge, produce and friendship. They help build vibrant connected resilience for healthy communities. So, with green growing everywhere, we’ve got green neighborhoods and cities. We’ve got higher property values, we’ve got lower crime rates, and best of all, we’re healthier and happier. I want you to think about a world leader. Imagine that person in a garden. Do you think differently of them? Do you think they’d think differently if they were a gardener? I think they would. Would any of them ever wage war on another country? I think instead, if they were a gardener, they’d be thinking about that amazing heirloom pumpkin the other country grows. They’d be more interested in seeds swaps and changing quarantine laws to make sure that happens.
I often think about a story that a dear gardening friend of mine shared with me about two groups of men who came to Australia from opposite sides of an international conflict zone. These two groups of men were watching him as he prepared to plant an apple tree. Forgetting their hostility, curiosity overcame them, and a dialogue started between the two groups as they remembered their love of gardening, and in particular growing food plants. Gardening builds common ground and it truly brings us together. Gardening doesn’t only save us, it can save the world. Wherever you are with gardening, know every minute spent in your garden, we’re a minute closer to a sustainable, peaceful world.