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There is a reason why many cultures depict paradise as a garden. Both words bring to mind a sense of tranquility, peace and contentment. So those who insist there is no time for gardening in their hectic lives may want to re-evaluate that position. The benefits reaped from planting a garden can be personal – providing fresh, wholesome food for your family or serving as a creative outlet – or public in that gardens often strengthen the entire community. And it doesn’t take a lot of space to derive benefits from gardening. A patio with a few pots of flowers or vegetables can be every bit as satisfying as gardening on a vast expanse of land. Buying your produce from the supermarket can be expensive and, at times, unsatisfying. Picked before they are ripe and shipped over great distances, the taste and price often are not what you hoped they would be. It can be difficult under those circumstances to get the recommended 5-8 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Buying locally grown produce can certainly help, but a fully ripened tomato eaten right off the vine – now there’s a flavor that makes the taste buds crave more. Or an eggplant with its glossy amethyst skin beckoning to you from behind lush green leaves – suddenly even noncooks may feel the urge to reach for the cookbook and create something special for dinner.
And then think about the cost savings. A single tomato plant that may cost you $1.99 can yield 20-40 tomatoes in a season. A pack of lettuce seeds might cost $1.50 and yield enough leaves to make salads for a month or more.
Since we’re on the subject of finances, studies have shown that improving your landscape can improve your property value by nearly 20 percent. A house set within a landscape of trees and shrubs has great curb appeal and often will sell faster than a house surrounded by unadorned lawn. There’s also the energy savings derived from mature shade trees whose protective canopies make it easier to heat and cool buildings.
After a stressful day at work, step into the garden. In the lush green of a garden there is peace. Research has shown that people who have contact with nature bounce back more quickly from day-to-day stress. Simple repetitive acts such as pulling weeds or pruning shrubs can have a meditative quality.
A connection to the natural world can be vital in a child’s development, as well. Studies have shown that children who have access to green spaces learn self-discipline, impulse control and to delay gratification. A study at the University of Illinois even suggests that a child’s connection to nature can lessen the symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
Bored with a winter on the treadmill? Gardening is great exercise and works the entire body. You bend, you stretch, you walk, and you lift. It is good for your heart, your joints and your bones. An hour of moderate work in the garden can burn 300 to 400 calories. And when you are done, you can step back and revel in the sight of a freshly mown lawn or weed-free, neatly edged beds.
Diane Mason is county extension agent for family and consumer sciences at the Boone County Cooperative Extension Service.