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12 Therapeutic Benefits of Gardening

A woman holding vegetables she's just picked from her garden.
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Because it’s inexpensive and anyone can do it, gardening is a top contender for most-beloved quarantine activity. It’s fun, pretty, and (sometimes) yields edible results. But what if it’s also therapeutic?

Some pretty strong evidence implies that it’s just that! After all, we evolved to live in a world surrounded by plants, so it makes sense we would thrive from gardening.

The many mental, physical, and emotional benefits it offers are reason enough to keep growing that garden—or start one. Here are some of the therapeutic benefits you can get out of gardening.

An Avenue for Connection

Now that everyone’s social lives have shifted to online-only, it’s easy to feel disconnected. When reaching out to friends and family, you might feel like it’s hard to find new things to talk about. You might even struggle to steer the conversation away from bad news.

Gardening can change that! Small updates about how your plants are doing are stress-free conversation starters. If someone else shares your love of gardening, you’ll always have something to talk about. Even the non-gardeners will probably enjoy hearing about your progress.

Plus, you might connect with new people over a foray into gardening. From Facebook groups to digital meetups, there are lots of online places to make new plant-centric connections.

Something to Look Forward to

If you’re facing canceled events or stressing about your career, it might feel like there’s not much to look forward to. However, a garden provides the promise of future events.

Your plants will grow, flower, or bear fruit. New leaves will sprout. Seedlings will pop up. Every day brings something new—and much of it’s positive. When you garden, you find yourself looking forward to what each day or week will bring.

A Light Workout

Gardening isn’t particularly strenuous for most people. However, it does get your body moving, at least a little bit.

Research shows exercise is a great way to boost your mental health and lift your mood. However, you might not be feeling up to a strenuous exercise class or long run right now. Gardening provides an accessible form of exercise so you can reap those mood-boosting benefits. You’ll also get the physical benefits of a mild workout.

It Gets You Outside

If you spend at least two hours per week in a natural environment, it can improve your overall mental and physical well-being.

You might not be able to take a walk in the park right now, but gardening brings nature to you! Even if it’s just a tiny container or a patio garden, spending some time with dirt and plants can provide the natural world’s benefits.

It Might Help Fight Depression

Gardening might be capable of more than just a general mental-health boost. Some health professionals actually recommend gardening as a form of therapy for people with depression.

Of course, gardening can’t completely replace all other therapies and medications. However, it might provide some much-needed relief to those who struggle with depression.

Reduce Stress

Simply looking at nature through a window can help some people feel less stressed. So, it makes sense that getting even closer to the natural world through gardening would also be a stress reducer. Even if you can’t get outside, indoor gardening offers the same benefit.

Gardening helps reduce stress because it provides the relaxing feeling we get from looking at greenery.

It might also take your mind off stressful situations because it requires just the right amount of focus. It’s not mentally taxing, but it’s enough of a distraction to get you out of your own head for a while.

These benefits are supported by science, too! Research shows gardening decreases cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.

A Sense of Control

A person checking a plant in a raised-bed garden.

You might feel like you can’t control most of what happens around you—and you’re right. Many factors—from job stability to illness—are largely out of our control. However, a garden is something you can control, and it might make it easier to cope with the things you can’t.

On the flip side, your garden also teaches you how to let go at times. You can control planting, weeding, watering, and so on, but you can’t control the weather or pests in your yard.

Gardening is a great reminder to focus on what you can control, and let go of the rest.

Promotes Creativity

Doing nothing is harder than it sounds. However, downtime is valuable for your brain. It gives it the space to have creative breakthroughs that don’t happen when your brain never gets a break.

Gardening can also provide that break. Your mind can relax, wander, and daydream while you work on your plants. This downtime helps your brain function properly and can also lead to new ideas and inspirations.

Gardening is also unpredictable, so it can inspire creativity by forcing you to solve problems with innovative solutions. You’ll become more resourceful as you solve problems to maintain your plants.

Engages the Senses

Gardening is a five-sense experience. You see the greenery and growth. You touch the leaves and soil. You hear the sounds of the outdoors (or the soundtrack you play while gardening indoors). You smell the flowers and the fresh earth. And finally, you get to taste the edible plants you grow.

These sensory experiences are a welcome break from looking at your phone or computer. They’ll help you feel connected to the world in a tangible way.

Short-Term Rewards

Our brains are wired to seek out rewarding stimuli. However, the sources of that stimuli aren’t always healthy. A new “like” on social media or an alcoholic beverage provide short-term rewards, but too much of these types of things can be bad for us.

When you garden, you get short-term rewards, too, but they won’t harm you—even in high doses. Weeding, watering, or seeing a new sprout all give you a feeling of success, which feels good. Most importantly, these rewards make you want to come back for more.

A Self-Esteem Boost

When you garden, there’s always a chance it won’t work out. Your seeds might not sprout, or your plants could die. However, there are also those times when it does work! These moments are great for boosting your self-esteem.

When you see your plants growing in your garden, your confidence grows, too! A flourishing garden is real-world proof that you’ve succeeded.

Of course, your garden won’t always grow as well as you’d like, but that only makes the successes that much more exciting. Gardening can help you develop the confidence to take on harder tasks, like that DIY household repair you’ve been putting off.

Healthy Food

If you’re growing herbs or vegetables, your garden might also help you start eating a bit healthier.

There’s something particularly exciting about eating something you’ve grown. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of tomatoes, the excitement of growing them yourself might convince you to work them into your diet.

Growing edible plants makes it easier to eat healthier, which is good for your body and mind.

Of course, there are ways you can get these benefits besides gardening. However, if you’ve been thinking about giving gardening a try, these therapeutic benefits might be just the push you needed.

Ready to start growing? Give these container-friendly veggies a try!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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