The Secrets of Gardening: Improving Mental Health

If you’ve ever spent time in nature, or even just read books like The Secret Garden you know there is something magically healing about nature. It’s a well known fact that gardening is good for mental health. But what about it specifically improves our brain state? 

“One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts- just mere thoughts- are as powerful as electric batteries- as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison… surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous ne. Two things cannot be in one place.”
“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”
- Fences Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Science Behind Gardening

We all know gardening has been widely claimed to reduce stress, enhance physical activity, and contribute to mental clarity. The simple act of planting, nurturing, and enjoying your garden can have profound effects. But what does science and research tell us? 

1. The Color Green

    The most common color found in your garden is of course green. Green is seen as a calming, tranquil color as it resembles nature. But to dive even deeper, our eye and mind find it soothing because green falls in the middle of the visible spectrum. This means it is a lot easier for our eyes and mind to process. When we offer our eyes this little brain break from processing all we see, it reduces tension, anger, and can even promote comfortability and peace. 

    2. The Dirt Underfoot

    Prepare to have your mind blown! Science has recently uncovered a bacteria commonly found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This harmless bacteria has been shown to act as a natural Prozac, stimulating serotonin production. Serotonin deficiency is linked to various mental health effects like depression, anxiety, and OCD. Additionally, Mycobacterium vaccae is being researched to improve cognitive function which could remedy Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Gardeners are at an advantage of utilizing this bacteria as they come into contact with it via inhalation or skin contact. Effects from this happy-booster can last up to 3 weeks! This bacterium, which has no adverse health effects, might explain why gardening and soil contact make people feel happier and more relaxed. 

    3. Burnt out? Mentally exhausted?

    Gardening can also assist in mental fatigue! The outdoors are considered restorative environments. For a place to qualify as restorative, it must captivate the brain, allow you to function as you wish, and provide new, engaging information to process while being geographically separated from your everyday life. Environments such as your garden fulfill these criteria, naturally grabbing your attention and thus alleviating the strain of constant intentional focus, which leads to burnout.

    4. Reduced stress levels and improved mental health.

    With all this science, and so much more yet to be discovered, it’s no wonder why being outside will also reduce cortisol levels, slow heart rates, and improve overall mental health! One study even found that "the mentally ill had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements" in nature. The presence of water made the positive effects even stronger. 

    5. Gardening is inherently a mindfulness practice.

    As you garden, you are forced to get down in the dirt with your plants. You notice things you haven’t before, you get to know your plants in a new way. And you watch them evolve and grow. This is a form of meditation and mindfulness. Slow, intentional observation and movement that is known to help soothe the mind.

    Essentially, in mind and embodied, gardening is a practice for good mental health. So, for whatever reason you came across this blog, we hope your takeaway is that there are many many health benefits for getting outside, settling in on hands and knees, and digging around in the dirt, fostering new life. Science hasn’t even begun to discover the benefits of your garden. In whatever season you may find yourself, know that there is still hope for you! Let your garden be a testament to the healing power of plants!


    More on the Color Green

    More on Dirt as the New Prozac

    More on Restorative Environments

    More on Reasons to be Outside