Many years ago, not long after gardening came to me* and stuck, I read a statistic that said something to the effect that just looking at a plant lowers our heart rate. This was so long ago now that I no longer recall the exact phrasing, nor where I read it, or why. Regardless, it was the first time I made a concrete, conscious connection between the act of gardening and the ways in which it could and did benefit me, the gardener.
Years later, and countless hours spent in various gardens of my making, I have never bothered to look further into current research for examples of how gardening may be enhancing my health, brain, body, and overall wellbeing. I just know intuitively that it is, and that’s really all of the proof that I need. However, as my relationship to gardening has evolved and grown, so have the benefits that I have felt and acknowledged. I suspect that with time, I will become aware of and experience new benefits. For now, the following is a brief musing on the gains I have gleaned so far:
On Growing Food
Growing food transforms us into producers — something we desperately need in a passive consumer culture where we have become an audience watching life rather than producers making it. Growing food provides a connection to and an understanding of where our food comes from. It schools us in what food looks like when it comes out of the ground or off of the vine, with all of its shapes, flaws, beauty, and flavor. The work involved in growing our own food provides first-hand knowledge of the labour that goes into growing it and teaches us not to take it or the work that farmers do for granted. It transforms our expectations and turns us into educated consumers who know the value of good, well-grown produce. It challenges us not to accept lesser quality food and lesser quality growing practices. Growing food makes us stronger and more resilient. It gives us pride of self-relience. It satiates the worry that should the Zombie Apocalypse come, we may just be able to make it out alive.
In growing countless plants and learning about their biology I have come to the knowledge that as food, plants are not benign. Every plant can have some action on the body, and in turn, eating is medicine.
We all come to gardening for different reasons, and while the topic is most often plunked in with and categorized as style and design, it doesn’t have to be about either. Much of my own gardening practice is about food production, using plant materials for dyes and other purposes, and feeding pollinators, all of which favour conditions that can sometimes work against aesthetic appeal, at least in the most culturally acceptable forms. However, I think that creativity comes down to self-expression and and a heightened awareness or way of experiencing that can be found and nurtured in unlikely ways. The more mundane aspects of gardening can be creative acts, even when our attentions are not drawn to cultivating a particular aesthetic. I also find that the plants themselves can inspire creativity and that as we live with them, we can’t help but begin to look at them more closely. Looking gives way to seeing, and seeing alters the way we perceive the world as a whole, which is in itself a form of creativity.
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