Why getting dirty in the garden makes us happy

It’s that time of year for me, the time of year where Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim is well underway and I start dreaming about what my yard is going to look like.

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It’s that time of year for me: the time of year when Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim is well underway and I start dreaming about what my yard is going to look like.

Now let me clarify—in no way am I a green thumb. In fact, I make a point of, er, annually turning to one of my closest friends to arrange and plant my garden. I’m no prima donna—I’m right in there with her digging up holes, transplanting beautiful flowers, covering them right up. But for the overall look, I leave it up to her to determine the mix of what’s right for my front yard and then we head over the garden centre where I give her my budget and she’s got yard blanche to plan my plot.

Just last week I dropped her an email wondering: what about a vegetable garden this year? I ran it by the family and the kids in particular loved the idea and started dreaming of growing cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, lettuces, pineapples, apples…. I had to put a stop to it right there and green lit the first three, noting that it’s probably best to focus our ambitions on foods that grow well in our urban Toronto yard. Sorry kids, no pineapples or apples this year. (Can you even grow pineapples outdoors in Canada? Again my agricultural knowledge fails me, but I’m guessing not.)

So with this in mind, I was quite happy to stumble across Michele Owen’s book Grow The Good Life Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy and Wise. I called up this former New Yorker to ask…what is it exactly about gardening that will make us grin?

Q: What’s the connection between gardening and happiness?

A: It’s a 10-ply kind of happiness. It involves all these physical things that have proven to make people happy such as sunshine, exercise, contact with greenery. There are studies showing all these things make people happy. And then there’s the spiritual aspect of gardening too. When I’m out there, I feel this sense of being able to forget myself in the garden, time passes, I’m completely at peace and absorbed in the task. You forget about yourself and your cares and concentrate on the task at hand.

The other thing is you’ll get this sense of connectedness if you start gardening. There’s an incredible sense of community among gardeners. So if you take up gardening, you may well find yourself chatting with your 80-year-old neighbour who you would never have a conversation with her except that she’s been growing vegetables for 50 years and she has things to tell you.

Q: How did you start gardening?

A: I’d lived in New York City for eight years and was dying to get out of the city but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Then my husband and I moved to a country village and the groceries were so execrable that I realized I had to do something and I started gardening. I think the first time I stuck a shovel into the soil, I thought—oh, this is why I left New York. This is it for me.

Q: If we’ve never gardened before any tips on getting started?

A:  Most how-to gardening books are thick with information and off-putting and they don’t give beginners the essential information which is that it’s really easy and really enjoyable. In terms of advice, mulch is key because if you mulch you won’t need to weed much, or water much and you won’t need fertilizer.  My other advice is relax and enjoy it. If something doesn’t work, shrug and try something else.