Just how gardening affects the mind and brain is still a mystery according to scientists. But what they do know is that gardening can reduce stress and calm the nerves. Building, planting and harvesting has actually been shown to lower cortisol, the hormone that plays a role in stress response.
It’s called horticultural therapy and gardens are popping up in some unconventional places – from prison yards to retirement homes to programs for troubled youth to help with mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
A study at a juvenile rehabilitation center in southwestern Ohio with a gardening program showed that horticulture therapy helped the kids see themselves in a more positive light and helped them better manage their emotional and behavioral problems. And most of the kids said they would continue gardening after the program. The garden environment is stable and gives them a chance to feel connected and at home.
Social scientists have also been looking at gardens built by and for the homeless, ex-convicts on probation and hospital patients. The results of early studies suggest they have a positive impact and many people tend to not revert back to bad behavior but rather make changes in their lives for the better.
Horticultural therapists say gardens produce the most positive effects on mental health.They do this by providing a sense of control – the psychological counter to stress and anxiety. Gardens are also beneficial for stroke patients, those recovering from physical trauma or people with disabilities.
Spring and summer is a great time to take some time to join in the weeding, pruning, cultivating and harvesting even if it means with a small indoor group of potted plants. Gardening is really for everyone!