Garden Therapy

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People turned to plants and gardens to help them cope during the pandemic. Can we preserve their interest?

June 4, 2020

Whether it’s from Victory Gardens 2.0, houseplants or home landscapes, the public has found peace in plants. This isn’t a new concept, of course, as the notion of horticultural therapy has roots in ancient Mesopotamia, according to an article in Psychiatry Investigation. Therapeutic benefits of gardens were introduced in the U.S. by Benjamin Rush, the “Father of American Psychiatry.” According to the same article, in 1812 he revealed how garden settings held curative benefits for people with mental illness.

Gardening and being in nature provide “profound health benefits,” according to the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH).

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“Research shows there are perceived and actual benefits to spending time in natural spaces compared to urban spaces, such as reduced mental fatigue, improved mood and reduced stress. In one study, people who had walked in nature for 40 minutes, reported more positive emotions and less anger, compared with those walking in an urban area, or even sitting quietly listening to music,” reports AIPH. The group also explains that “gardening gives people a creative way to change their stress and frustration into something beautiful that offers comfort and joy. The natural rhythms of a garden and of plants work as a counterpart against stress. There is silence and peace in the garden. A garden stimulates creativity and there is the satisfaction and pride in growing things.”

Millions of people who were sheltering in place experienced this phenomenon. Some used houseplants, some grew food and others planted flowers. The sale of seeds skyrocketed. Garden centers reported having record sales weeks, despite having to sell products curbside. The “chore” of gardening or landscaping seemed to disappear. We were forced to slow down, which allowed us to appreciate the exfoliating bark of the crape myrtle, the sweet perfume of the lilac or the colorful fall of the bearded iris. We heard the birdsongs and the rustle of leaves from a gentle breeze. We smelled the earth when we got down on our hands and knees and dug a hole for that new plant. We appreciated nature and it helped relieve the burden of the pandemic.

Now that states are “opening” and people are returning to work, will that comfort and creativity brought on by gardening continue? Can we as an industry help the public retain those profound health benefits? We must. It’s imperative. Not only because it keeps growers, suppliers, retailers, truckers, etc. in business, but also because the public needs to heal. The breakneck pace of society needs to decelerate. People need the peace that our products can deliver.