There is something calming and regenerative about being in a garden experiencing nature: butterflies on flowers, picking tomatoes off a vine, or lazing under a shade tree.
As a plant lover, I see gardening as the definition of love. Gardening provides self-love as it is proven to help mental and physical well-being. Giving flowers, fruits, and veggies, or plants are acts of love. Many people choose roses or dogwood trees to memorialize a loved one. It's also an act of love for the Earth.
As humans, we are the stewards of this world. I believe that since we are the dominant species, we are responsible for all other species. We live in a critical time where habitat loss and climate change are endangering many plants and animals. In Missouri, 735 plants and 410 animals are of concern by Missouri conservationists, with 52 in danger of extinction.
The last 20 years have seen a dramatic decline in the monarch butterfly population. While a multifaceted issue, one of the biggest reasons has been habitat loss for these opulent creatures. In recent years, there has been a massive national initiative to help preserve this fragile population. One organization, Missourians for Monarchs, has been instrumental to this cause. We can help by planting a butterfly garden. Even a 10' x 10' butterfly garden can have an impact. A slight increase of just 10% of our neighbors creating butterfly gardens would help keep a continual butterfly habitat line to get the monarchs from Canada down to Mexico and back. Imagine if everyone on your street had a butterfly garden.
Even the smallest stamp of land can make a significant impact on our environment. Planting flowers for pollinators, reducing or eliminating pesticide use, and creating habitats for birds and other local wildlife benefit both our plant, our animal friends, and ourselves. Over a third of our food requires pollinators. Frogs, lizards, and opossums eat ticks, mosquitoes, and other annoying insects. Hawks, owls, and snakes can help manage a mouse problem. All these animals can cohabitate in our yards if we give them a chance.
When I started working at Sugar Creek in 2008, we couldn't give Missouri native plants away. Now, it's a significant portion of our business. Through excellent programs like Grow Native!, people learn how important native plants can be for our neighborhood ecology. Native plants are super easy to grow. They have had thousands of years to be perfectly designed to thrive in our unpredictable weather. If you've ever considered growing native plants but declined because you thought they were too big or too wild looking for your yard, take a look at "nativar" options. Nativars are native plants bred for ornamental value, petite sizes, larger or longer flower time, and interesting foliage color. Nativars are a great choice if you want the benefits of native plants with a more traditional garden look.
While I have yet to meet a plant I don't like, vegetable gardening is where my heart lies. If you've never had a sun-warmed tomato fresh off the vine, you have yet to experience one of life's greatest pleasures. Typically, homegrown veggies are more flavorful than what's found in the grocery store. And, because you are the gardener, you know how they were grown, what kinds of chemicals, if any, were used, and how fresh they are. There's nothing more locally grown than a garden five feet from your kitchen.
Vegetable gardening also encourages you and your family to eat more veggies. Multiple studies have correlated gardening to fruit and veggie intake. Across the board, adults and children who garden eat more fruits and veggies than those that do not. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics surveyed about 1,200 college freshmen and found those who had gardened ate significantly more fruits and vegetables than those who had never gardened. A recent study in Texas found that children who had a learning garden at their school ate more vegetables than ones who did not. Another Texas study found that adults over the age of 50 who gardened ate more veggies than those who did no gardening. A 2019 study from the American Society for Nutrition found that 1 out of 7 of all heart-related deaths can be attributed to not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
Research shows that gardening can improve our mental and physical health. A study from Princeton University found that home gardening affects happiness in ways similar to biking, walking, or dining out. Out of 15 activities studied, gardening had the highest positive effect on women's emotional well-being. The American Heart Association considers gardening moderate exertion involving all types of exercise: strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. A study from the University of Arkansas found that women over 50 who garden had higher bone density than women who used conventional exercise methods like running, swimming, or aerobics.
Luckily, you don't necessarily need a backyard to enjoy the benefits of plants. Houseplants provide many of the same emotional and physiological benefits that gardens do. Research shows that office green spaces can boost employee productivity by 15%, while also reducing stress. Doctors in England are prescribing potted plants to help treat anxiety and depression. Plants can even discharge you from the hospital faster: Kansas State University studied patients recovering from surgery and found those with plants in their room had shorter hospital stays and required fewer pain medications than those without.
Today is a great time to “get growing.” Gardening a wonderful activity that has been proven to bring the family together and teaches the next generation about healthy eating and good environmental stewardship. Sow the seeds of life, love, health, and happiness.