By Anne Harding, Health.com
Gillian Aldrich started growing vegetables in her backyard three years ago, and she’s now working on planting a bed of hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, rose campion, and—her favorite—pale-pink hardy geraniums along one side of her property.
As she digs in the garden, her 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son often play around her, sometimes taking a break to dig for worms or pick strawberries. Instead of just watching them, Aldrich is playing, too—”my kind of play,” she says.
“When you sit at a desk all day, there’s something about literally putting your hands in the dirt, digging and actually creating something that’s really beautiful,” says Aldrich, 42, a magazine editor in Maplewood, N.J. “There’s something about just being out there that feels kind of elemental.”
Aldrich isn’t the only one who feels this way. Many gardeners view their hobby as the perfect antidote to the modern world, a way of reclaiming some of the intangible things we’ve lost in our busy, dirt-free lives.
The sensory experience of gardening “allows people to connect to this primal state,” says James Jiler, the founder and executive director of Urban GreenWorks, a Miami-based nonprofit that provides environmental services and programs for low-income neighborhoods. “A lot of people [understand] that experience. They may not be able to put it into words, but they understand what’s happening.”
Working in the garden has other, less spiritual rewards. In addition to being a source of fresh, healthy produce, gardening can ease stress, keep you limber, and even improve your mood.
Here are just a few of the ways gardening can benefit your physical and mental health, and how you can start harvesting those benefits for you and your family.