BY CHELSIE HART
While growing up, when visiting women in my family, I always gravitated towards the gardens at their homes. My grandmother had acres of land and taught my 11 aunts and uncles how to plant seeds on rows (an old-fashioned planting technique). When I was not admiring what was grown, I found myself eavesdropping on conversations specifically about gardening topics. I became wide-eyed, hearing my loved ones boasting of 10-pound watermelons and prize winning sunflower fields. I laughed at how competitive my aunts and mother had become over growing something as simple as snap beans. I made sure to lean in extra hard when hearing them whisper secrets and tricks to help boost their bountiful harvests. At a young age, conversations that involved growing anything left me curious and excited to learn more.
My mother did not stray from the tradition of keeping a beautiful garden. Instead of fruits and vegetables, she preferred flowers and tropical vines, spreading them through hills and corners throughout our large yard. She also had an occasional tomato/cucumber plot for summer salads and sandwiches.
Every year I would excitedly accompany her to garden supply stores to explore what was new and gain inspiration for how we would fill in annual spaces while also preserving heirloom perennials passed down from my grandmother. Every late winter/early spring, I would often find my mother sitting, sketching very detailed garden plans that looked like complicated puzzles. While this seemed stressful to me, she appeared delighted and antsy. As I grew older and began to research gardening, I stumbled upon reports in the Mental Health Journal citing gardening as a means of reducing stress and improving mood, with a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Now I see why she eagerly filled in her graph paper with various shapes and numbers.
“Gardening is some of the best exercise mother nature gives.” My mother would repeat this often during our days out in the yard. It was exercise, alright. Digging holes, amending soil, sometimes even tilling the land. By middle school, I knew the gardens meant sweat and work. I enjoyed the hard work and, more importantly, my mother’s time and the memories we were sowing. The broken nails and stiff muscles seemed to always be overshadowed by how quickly I saw our hard work paying off. Years later, I still equate the sun radiating on my skin with making memories with my mom in her gardens. Our time in the sun boosted our Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D increases your calcium levels, which benefits your bones and immune system. A 2014 Italian study, published on the National Institutes of Health website, found that exposure to sunlight helped older adults achieve adequate serum vitamin D levels. Gardening is perfect for getting your sunshine while pursuing a fun hobby.
“A seed is a powerful thing.”
My mother always quoted the importance of sowing flowers and seeds. She would emphasize their significance both in gardening and in day-to-day life. Constantly we discussed how few things compared to the feeling of accomplishment when watching a hard-earned garden grow. She was right. Working hard is an incredible mood booster that provides a sense of pride and achievement. In fact, a study in the Netherlands, cited by CNN, suggests that gardening fights stress better than most hobbies. Participants completed a stressful task; they were told to read inside or go outdoors and garden for 30 minutes. The gardening group reported better moods afterward, and their blood tests showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Now that I’m older, it’s my turn to proudly carry on family garden traditions. I have young children eager to sow seeds and learn to maintain overflowing garden plots. Every late winter, like I watched my mother do, I sketch up new garden plans and bring my children to seed shops and local nurseries in the spring. I am so grateful for all lessons and time spent helping my mother over the years. Slowly I have begun to sow these seeds of knowledge with my own children while echoing how important sowing seeds are in garden plots and our everyday life.