You might think that with the pandemic, natural disasters, war abroad, drought, and civil strife at home, Americans wouldn’t be thinking much about gardening. After all, everyone’s got mouths to feed and families to protect, right? But if you thought that, you would be wrong, surprisingly! In 2021, the National Gardening Survey reported that interest in gardening is way up. There were 18.3 million new gardeners, and veteran gardeners also gardened more. Eighty-nine percent of all gardeners planned to either maintain their current level of gardening or increase it. So why is gardening so gosh-darn popular, even during hard times? Maybe it’s because people want to be more self-sufficient in the face of supply-chain problems. Maybe they seek its relaxing effects to counteract stress. Personally, I think it’s that and a whole lot more. There are many benefits to gardening that you might not have thought of before.
Indeed, even if you don’t own a plot of land or have the time to cultivate a garden, there are ways you can do it. When you consider the benefits, you might actually wonder how you can afford not to garden!
Benefits of Gardening
Complete self-sufficiency—where one relies on no government infrastructure or commercial enterprise—is definitely a lofty goal. Many people would say it’s an unrealistic and unattainable goal. Maybe it is, but you can still aim for a kind of self-sufficiency. It’s the kind that isn’t just about having the tangible goods on hand. It’s also about giving your body better nutrition and the satisfaction of reaping what you sow.
“Evidence shows that locally grown produce can have a higher nutritional value than produce [that is] transported long distances,” says Corilee Walters, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. In addition, harvesting your own produce means you eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that would have been spent transporting it to you. In Hawaii, the need for self-sufficiency, at least in terms of produce, is high, since imported food travels a minimum of 2,500 miles to get there, which makes their cost prohibitive.
Like the people of Hawaii, the citizens of Cape Verde also needed to become more self-reliant because of prohibitive produce costs. Although not technically a desert, this island off the west African coast, about the same latitude as the Sahara Desert, claims soil that isn’t very arable and low rainfall. Because of that, Cape Verdians ate very little fruits and vegetables.
But, in 2009, several missionaries and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, taught them how to improve soil for their gardens by combining fertilizer and potting soil with the soil found in their region. Several islanders also learned how to plant gardens in whatever containers they could find and create compost piles. Less reliance on imported produce, for them, provided nutrition they were almost completely lacking. So, benefits 2 and 3 are:
Better Nutrition & Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions = Better for the Environment
A less tangible but still important benefit of gardening is the satisfaction of reaping what we sow.
Allie Schultze, of the welfare department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said this about the spiritual lessons of gardening:
It teaches that, in every aspect of life, “whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap” (D&C 6:33). Growing a garden fulfills the command given to Adam and Eve and their posterity, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Gardening is work, an important principle of the gospel; “He that is idle shall not eat the bread … of the laborer” (D&C 42:42). Obedience to seeming temporal laws are important since all commandments are spiritual (see D&C 29:34).
You could say that seeing a garden through all the way from planning to preparation, planting, to harvesting is a particularly straightforward way of reaping what we sow: you plant something, you care for it, you get the benefits. Often in life—both work and personal—we might not get to see the fruits of our labors, whether it’s a sale from a contact we made or a better day for someone we provided service to. In gardening, at least, there’s a beginning, middle, and end. So the fourth benefit is…
Seeing the Fruits of Our Labors…Literally
This kind of lesson is valuable not only for us but for children as well, if you have them. They too can learn:
- How to “connect the dots” between their actions one day and benefits they’ll gain down the road. If ever there was a good exercise in delayed gratification, gardening is it!
- That food doesn’t originate in the grocery store
- That accomplishment feels good, as does spending time outside and with family
Thus, benefit #5 is:
Teaching Opportunities for Our Kids
Given all of this, you might think: “Great! I get that there are many benefits of gardening, but I still don’t have the time or space to garden!” Or you might be chomping at the bit to get started, but don’t know how. A quick Google search for gardening tips will quickly yield you an overwhelming number of results. So I’ve done the beginning work for you by poring over some of the top gardening sites around the world and honing in on the tips they have in common.
Gardening Tip 1: Plan, Plan, Then Plan Again
Over and over again, the experts say to plan everything from garden location to best plants for your climate zone, etc. Even if you’re only growing a few pea plants in flower pots on your back porch, this means placing them optimally so they get at least 6 hours of sun.
Gardening Tip 2: Use and Repurpose All Kinds of Containers
This is where it gets fun. Of course, you can use the obvious flowerpots, and you can also cut the top halves of milk-gallon jugs off and use the bottoms. You know the plastic containers you get your rotisserie chicken in? Those can be used to sow seeds in the winter. Also, look up “container gardening” on Pinterest. You’re welcome.
Gardening Tip 3: It All Starts With Good Soil
If the Cape Verdians could make good enough soil to grow vegetables in, you can do it too! No matter where you live, making good soil means mixing your native soil with compost or other organic material. It’s like giving your body the nutrients it needs so you can feel good and have lots of energy. Plants need nutrients too!
Gardening Tip 4: Do the Compost Thing
Along the lines of good soil, compost is where it’s at. According to the National Resources Defense Counsel, compost, which is recycled food and other organic waste, provides a host of environmental benefits.
Gardening Tip 5: Start Small
You might be tempted, when you go to your local nursery or Lowe’s, to buy all the seeds. But Rachel at GrowAGoodLife.com suggests that planting too much can lead to disillusionment. So maybe once you’ve done the container thing, expand to a 10-foot-square area. See if the upkeep is reasonable and the harvest is good, then grow or shrink as needed.
Good luck on your gardening adventure!
Sources (all retrieved 4/26/22):