How my daughter discovered that growing things makes her happy.

Why Gardening is Good for Your Mental Health

Growing things and playing in the dirt can have surprising benefits.

Leslie Wibberley
Jun 17, 2019 · 5 min read

My twenty-three-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was a little girl, and who is also a gifted/learning disabled student, has struggled on and off with depression and anxiety for years.

Last year, due to some unexpected life challenges, her depression escalated out of control.

At an all-time low, she could barely summon the strength to practice self-care, spending days in bed not engaging with anyone. Until finally, after a six-month wait, she was able to see a psychiatrist.

Six weeks ago she was prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibiter, (S.S.R.I.) that has turned her life around.

It’s been like a miracle to see her sunshine returning after such an extended period of suffering. Not all people respond so well so quickly, but it does happen, and usually means their prognosis is good.

And…

After so many years of, as she described it, “Trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be,” she is finally discovering the things that bring her joy.

And the one thing that has had such a profound impact on her?

Gardening

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My daughter’s plant babies. Photography by Leslie Wibberley

After years and years of not remembering to bring her textbooks home, when her tests were, when her assignments were due, to feed the dog, walk the dog, brush her teeth, of not being able to get ready for school on time, to get to class on time, to get to soccer on time, and more recently of not having the energy to even take care of her own basic needs, my girl is not only remembering to take care of her garden, she’s loving the entire process.

She’s planted seeds and tiny seedlings, waters and prunes them, harvests them, and transplants them as needed. And not only are all these plants growing, but they’re also thriving. Just like she is.

Just like she is.

At first, she started with herbs, hoping to have her own fresh supplies for cooking. Then she branched out to edible flowers and a few vegetables.

She’s devouring books on the benefits of botanicals, how to make her own teas, and how best to nurture her plants.

On a daily basis, my girl is digging her hands in the dark, rich loam, and in the process, all those delightfully beneficial bacteria in the dirt microbiome are making their way into her system.

It seems everyone is talking about microbiomes these days,

Your gut has a microbiome:

Your sinuses have a microbiome:

And it seems, event dirt has a microbiome of its own.

Evidence seems to suggests the bacteria in dirt can have very positive effects on our mental health. One strain of bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae is of particular interest.

This little beauty has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety.

Aside from the potential benefit of these microbes on our mental health, gardening has many other positive effects:

  1. Provides a sense of responsibility: My girl is the only one responsible for her plants, if she neglects them, they will die.
  2. Having plants to care for allows us to be nurturers, a perfect way to boost self-esteem. My girl is so proud of her little garden.
  3. Being surrounded by nature is good for us. The Japanese even have a name for this: Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing. The benefits of this have been scientifically proven, and include: boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, and increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD. I see evidence of this daily, as my girl is scouring resources to best take care of her garden. She’s more focused and determined than I’ve seen in her a very long time.
  4. Improves mindfulness. The beauty of the flowers and green plants engages our sight, their fragrance engages our smell, the hum of bees buzzing around the plants, our hearing, running our fingertips along velvet leaves, or in the damp earth, engages our sense of touch. With all our senses so vibrantly involved, we exist in the moment. Every day I hear my girl downstairs, walking around and talking her to plants, enjoying them, and just…being.
  5. Gives us a sense of control. This is so important for my girl, who for so long felt as if she had no control over what was happening in her life. Now, when she is with her plants, she is the one in charge. When to plant, when to harvest, when to water, all these things are determined by her alone.
  6. Gardening is rewarding. Watching a beautiful flower, or herb, or vegetable plant emerge from a tiny seedling into something beautiful, or able to provide nourishment, is a wonderful thing. It gives such a sense of accomplishment. Every day, my girl invites me down to her little patio to show me how well her plant babies are doing.

I’m not sure which of us is happier. My girl, because her garden—that she alone is in charge of—is thriving, or me, because she is.

The next time you’re feeling down, why not go dig in the dirt and plant some life of your own?

You may be surprised at just how good it feels.

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Leslie Wibberley

Written by

Award-winning writer of CNF, short stories & novels—horror, magical realism, romance, speculative fiction—adult & YA. Presently in Shitt’s Creek withdrawal.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +753K people. Follow to join our community.

Leslie Wibberley

Written by

Award-winning writer of CNF, short stories & novels—horror, magical realism, romance, speculative fiction—adult & YA. Presently in Shitt’s Creek withdrawal.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +753K people. Follow to join our community.

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