The Healing Power of Gardening


To start a vegetable garden is a return to what is most natural in us.

You see, there is something deeply humanizing in kneeling onto the carpet of soil to make a hole for a sapling gently moving a startled earthworm out of the way.

I call it, active meditation. In those moments, my mind stops racing, I am fully present, grateful to be there, and I find that a state of euphoria takes over.

I love nature with a startling intensity and an unrestrained enthusiasm.

I must suffer from what is called hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage and tend nature.

Growing up, I could never fully understand why getting my bare hands into the dirt and compost heap felt so good.

As a twenty-first century young woman I am still puzzled by how can getting down and dirty bring me so much joy?!

Well, McCarthy offers us one possible explanation:

“They are surely very old, these feelings.They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our town and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

The other possible explanation comes from science.

Research shows that the mycobacterium vaccae found in the soil increases serotonin produced in the brain.

Serotonin is a happy chemical and happiness is a serious business.

Serotonin also strengthens the immune system.

But forget planting, there is also the unmatched reward of picking a plump heirloom tomato or eating a tasty purple carrot. I can assure you, these are no small pleasures.

Surprise surprise! There is also a scientific explanation for secretly feeling so satisfied and elated each time is harvesting time. 

Apparently when we harvest products from our gardens, we trigger the release of dopamine. The flush of dopamine released in the reward centre of the brain triggers a state of bliss or mild euphoria.

Does anything look better than this?

Now, finally,  I know why, in a healthy way, gardening does make me feel high.

Now, I gladly accept my addiction.

When my friends go on a shopping spree, I too follow. Only that my road takes me to the nursery, while they go to the shopping mall.

As a comment on PlanetDrum stated, “all addiction pathways are the same no matter what the chemical. As long as you feel rewarded you reinforce the behavior to get the reward.”

Perhaps we can’t change our craving nature but we can change the nature of what we crave.

And craving fresh strawberries, oh, trust me, feels good!

Remember, sometimes a day is made bearable only by a walk through a garden…

Or, as Walt Whitman put it when he pondered on what makes life worth living:

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on – have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear – what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.”

Join us on a trip around Chile and visit one of the oldest and most southern organic gardens of the south hemisphere, the very charming organic garden of Cerro Paine Reserve in Patagonia.