It is wonderful having an activity that connects you to the present moment and the Earth.
This past year has created immense amounts of uncertainty in all of our lives, from the pandemic and its rippling effects, to the presidential election and attempted coup at the Capitol. Through this unpredictability, there is something we can all rely on and take comfort in; plants!
I have been able to find contentment in plants and gardening through this ambiguous time. At the beginning of quarantine last March, I started growing seedlings for my eventual garden. I was very much a beginner, my thumb being only a faint shade of green. I had bought some birdhouse gourd seeds a few months before and was committed to the process, ready to shed my blood, sweat and tears if necessary.
Having something to care for and look after really eased some of my mental anguish. In a study published by Juyoung Lee et al. in 2015 looked into gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between gardening and lower blood pressure. It was found that gardening after stressful situations actually lowers one’s blood pressure.
It is wonderful having an activity that connects you to the present moment and the Earth. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is to find appreciation in the present moment because the present moment is truly all we have. When things in life seem to be only hanging on by a thread, it can be helpful to remember all we have is the now. The past is gone and the future may never come, so we better try to find beauty and peace in the now.
Gardening is an activity that one can practice mindfulness while partaking in. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness where one focuses all of their awareness on the present moment. I live with a variety of mental illnesses and have gone to therapy for the past fourteen years of my life. The greatest tool I have learned from therapy is mindfulness.
Mindfulness can help one go from overthinking or self doubting to focusing on what is actually going on in the current moment around them. Mindfulness is incredibly powerful. Refusing to let your mind dwell on things out of your control and instead focusing your energy on what is going on around you can help break harmful thought patterns.
There is a grounding exercise my therapist taught me that I would like to share. When life feels like too much and you’re stuck in your head, try this. Observe and say out loud five things you see around you. Observe and say aloud four things you feel touching your skin. Observe and share three things you hear around you. Then share two things you can smell, and finally one thing you taste. Doing this exercise grounds your senses to your current moment.
You can ground yourself while gardening by focusing on the texture of the plants’ leaves, or the way the soil feels falling through your fingers, or perhaps breathing in the aromas floating off of flowers. According to a 2013 study on the effects of the color of foliage on human emotions by Y.A. El Fatah et al., the color of plants can be utilized to relieve stress and improve one’s emotional state.
Few things feel better than seeing your time and care pay off in the form of a new leaf unfurling or fruit beginning to grow. I felt such a sense of pride watching my birdhouse gourds grow from seedlings to full plants beginning to vine and eventually fruiting. As they overtook the trellises I built for them, I thought about how good it felt to have something relying on me for care. It can be nice to have something that needs you on days where getting out of bed feels like a gigantic task.
According to a study by Claire Lowe et al. in 2011 that sought to understand the therapeutic benefits of horticulture or gardening on mental health service, gardening can stabilize one’s mental health if they are previously interested in gardening and horticulture.
While we are currently in the midst of winter and outdoor gardening is not really an option, indoor gardening is also really fulfilling. Since last semester, I have been accumulating plants that are currently living in my bedroom. I have about seven different plants now, with my crisp wavy fern, my bamboo, my triostar, my spider plant, my succulents, my ivy and the baby I am proudest of, my rabbit foot fern. When I wake up in the morning, my favorite thing to do is greet all of my plant children and check for any new growth or potential problems.
If anyone is looking for a whimsical place to find a new plant friend and a cup of coffee, I recommend checking out local small business Maypop, in Webster Groves. Maypop is a lovely, quaint greenhouse and coffee shop open year round.
Plants are low maintenance ways of bringing tranquility and potentially some companionship into your home. For a beginner, I would recommend something easier to take care of. Perhaps a spider plant or an ivy of some kind. Always look into the plant you are thinking about getting first, to fully understand the care it will need. The most common mistake with new and overeager plant parents is over watering. Avoid overwatering by getting to know your plant. Stick your finger two inches deep into the soil and if the soil is dry, your plant needs a bit of water, if the soil is already damp, wait a few more days to water.