People with dirty hands understand that gardening is good for mental health

"May your life be full of gardens and your gardens full of life" said my friend Laura when she gave me the book "People with Dirty Hands" by Robin Chotzinoff.

Gardeners, those people with dirty hands, understand not only the physical benefits of gardening, but also the mental and emotional benefits. In fact, research definitely proves that gardening is therapeutic.

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush - the father of American psychiatry - stated that garden settings can help people with mental illness. The Associated Press recently reported that soldiers in World War I planted trench gardens, while prisoners of war in World War II plant ed barbed wire gardens to supply food and release.

War veterans in the 1940s and 1950s received horticulture therapy to help them recuperate from the horrors and wounds of battle. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned to gardening to reconnect to nature, to remind them of home, to have a feeling of hope, to have something positive to do or just to have a spot of restful beauty.

In these trying times when many are out of work, when wars continue and bad news is the rage, all of us have different stresses or physical or mental challenges. Gardening may provide some relief and it can be done quite easily, quite affordably, even in a single pot in a sunny window.

Perhaps you or a loved one would like to garden to make you feel better. For those with physical challenges, make the access routes wide and gently graded. Try raised beds or containers. You may have to adapt tools or purchase appropriate tools. Raise houseplants indoors in a sunny window or herbs outside on an accessible patio or deck.

To reduce stress and quiet the mind, create gardens that stimulate the sense of smell or touch. Provide eye candy with beautiful colors and shapes. Or, to give back, grow veggies, fruits and herbs and share them with those less fortunate, possibly an elderly neighbor, a single parent, a curious child or the local food bank.

Nurturing tender young seedlings and supplying what they need to grow often puts things into a peaceful perspective, at least for a few minutes. Eating the first tomato or other veggie of the season is a simple joy. Go get your hands dirty.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at or 887-2252.


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