Every once in a while a news report references an important scientific study that says something like, “gardening is good for you.” Whether it’s the physical activity, the smell of the soil or the therapeutic nature of growing things, the revelation comes as no surprise to anyone who loves getting their hands dirty.
Gardening can bring our thoughts into focus, as living in turbulent times can be stressful, and regardless of where you land on the political map, these are turbulent times. Ironically that statement is just as obvious and “gardening is good for you.”
Caring for plants provides a respite from the phone attached to our hip and helps us to put things in perspective. The bumble bee, which pollinates pretty red salvia flowers, knows what needs to be done to perpetuate the species as we watch it visiting blooms. The swallowtail butterfly, who dances from flower to flower, helps us smile and the taste of a homegrown tomato makes all the hard work worthwhile. Albeit temporary, the garden can provide therapy needed to navigate our insanely busy lives. Gardening also transcends the boundaries of age, race, and economic differences.
I recently had an interesting appearance at the Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival, held at Rivers Casino, which bears this out. As I stood in the back corner of the event on the side of a booth run by Cherish Creamery, who was selling different cheeses, my job was to give away packets of a special heritage seed I’ve fallen in love with called ‘Perpetual Spinach.’ It’s part of my work with Farm to Table Buy Local.
I wondered what the reaction of people would be, and how I would first interact with them to offer the seeds while they were plied with an endless supply of whiskey. I thought it would be easy to pick out the gardeners, just look for someone with gray hair, wrinkled pants along with comfortable, but not fashionable shoes. I was completely wrong. I found young couples, singles, dudes in fancy suits, and even some staff, all thrilled to receive this small gift.
They eagerly listened to the story of this heirloom Swiss chard, which has a texture and flavor more like spinach. Most were amazed to hear it could be planted right now, harvested into December, and maybe would over winter for a spring harvest, too.
It made my heart sing when I encountered a young woman dressed to the nines, who lives in Brentwood, who’s eyes lit up when I gave her the seed. She offered up stories of canning deep red ‘Roma’ tomatoes, experimenting with growing ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Sungold’ tomatoes, and the joy she receives from gardening. She treasured that little packet of seeds and was happily anticipating planting them soon.
It's all part of being a fraternity of gardeners, when we meet, thoughts of whatever is bothering us fade away with talk of what we grow, how it’s going, and what’s next. It’s not just gardening, it’s sharing, which feels so good, whether it’s a packet of seeds, a story, or some tips. The physical benefits of gardening are also pretty obvious. Digging, planting, loading compost, weeding, and everything else keeps us moving. It’s especially apparent early in the season after a winter of caring for houseplants. That first big weekend of planting results in sore muscles, but in the best way.
Gardening isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, something always goes wrong every season, but so much more goes right.
We beam with pride though, showing off what we’ve cared for and watching it reach fruition. It just feels good, and when that happens, there’s not much question that “gardening is good for you.”