MASTER GARDENER: Gardening has many benefits for physical and mental health

Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in America and for good reason. I call it exercise with a purpose. The health benefits are good for the mind and the body.

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Gardening has been around for as long as humans have been growing food. Gardens today not only provide sustenance but are places to relax, to focus and to connect with nature and each other.

This is the definition of biophilia — the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living beings. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the idea in his book, "Biophilia." He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”

Some examples of common biophilia design elements include skylights to provide natural light, green walls or living walls covered with living greenery; and the presence of water, such as fountains inside the house or outside or ponds.

Various studies have shown that when people are close to nature they are more productive, focus better and study harder. Research supports that plant life reduces stress. Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in America and for good reason. I call it exercise with a purpose. The health benefits are good for the mind and the body. Surrounded by plant life people recover quicker from illnesses and injuries.

According to Emily Hansen with the University of Minnesota Extension, “Gardening is a mindfulness practice where you can just exist in the moment. Use your senses next time you are outdoors. See the colors around you, smell the forest air, listen to the birds, touch the plants and taste what the garden has to offer. Surprisingly, the soil can improve your mood. One kind of bacteria found there has been found to stimulate areas of the brain to produce serotonin which helps us feel good.”


Next time you are in the garden get your hands dirty and test this theory.

Gardening brings peace and contentment day to day as plants sprout and bloom due to the gardener's effort. Seeing our plants succeed gives our sense of pride a boost. Self-esteem is enhanced as one values one’s efforts and decisions for a successful garden.

If you struggle with staying focused on tasks, conversations or topics in your daily life, gardening can help you learn to concentrate on what’s right in front of you without getting distracted. Studies have shown that outdoor activities such as gardening can reduce some symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Things like weeding, digging and raking provide good exercise, providing you use good body mechanics and pace yourself — especially when starting out each spring. Regular exercise reduces anxiety, depression and other mental issues and can help prevent dementia.

There is no end to the benefits of time spent in the garden. However, it is also good to understand the garden is subject to limits beyond our control. Our work can fail due to too much rain and not enough sun, insects and plant-loving animals if there is no protection and our own mistakes.

Gardeners have to be realistic especially here in the north where our growing season is limited. I hope many will find a space or a pot to plant and enjoy what is growing there.

If you're interested in learning more about container and raised bed gardening, check out the class offered at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, via Bemidji Community Education. Dan Sherman and John Reff, who are Beltrami County Master Gardeners, will be guiding community members in how to grow plants in raised beds and containers, and will be available to answer your questions after the class.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website,, or by visiting our Facebook page at


Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 and leave your name, number and question.

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