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Hidden Advantages of Gardening

It is quite easy to have cut flowers like these to pick every day of the year.

If you have a yard, you are well aware that there is a certain amount of work involved in keeping it up. Even if that work is a chore, it does you a mountain of good. When it turns into a pleasure, your yard automatically becomes a garden and the hidden benefits multiply.

A yard is a microcosm of life with all the drama, conflict, tragedy, and comedy of a great work of literature, of an exciting life. It invites you to be involved in nature, in the cycle of the seasons, in growth and bloom and dormancy.

Yet it allows you to be detached. If a hurricane devastates your yard, the loss is severe and sad, but not personal like a broken leg. You can clear away the branches and start again at once to make it look better.

A small bed of herbs for seasoning can make more difference in the flavor of your food than any comparable use of plants, time, and space.

If you can't work in the garden for a while, it waits for you and keeps on growing. As things get better, you can do as much or as little as you want.

I saw this especially when I once worked with a garden at a nursing home. After long decades of doing what they must--and most of them had been Iowa farmers, some of the residents delighted in saying, "I don't have to do that anymore. I'm too old." Then the next time I looked, they were watering or deadheading because it needed to be done, they could do it well, and it made them feel good.

Others were outspoken in their enthusiasm. We planted both flowers and vegetables around a patio that had seldom been used before, and suddenly even the people who didn't work on the garden were taking their visitors out there to see it. Gardening can be a pleasant spectator sport.

There is a definite need in our souls for beauty around us, and nothing we can buy compares to green grass and green leaves and flowers framing a view from our windows.

Everyone also needs a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment. More and more of our daily work is lacking in this, but just let the Crinum lily bloom, the bean seeds sprout, or the oranges ripen, and the feeling is even better than the taste.

You don't need a single flower or vegetable to have a garden. Trees and shrubs are quite enough. But whatever you plant, be sure to weigh the benefits along with the chores. To my mind, a flower or vegetable garden doesn't take any more work than the same area of grass takes mowing, and the rewards multiply a hundredfold.

Vegetables can be grown in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers. Just a small part of your yard in edibles will yield an abundance of fruits, herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables.

Grow your own vegetables and you will find you'll eat many more and consequently less of the expensive junkfood. No more nagging children to eat vegetables when they've helped to grow them. Try to keep them from it! Much will be consumed on the spot, so you will have no picking, no cooking, and no fuss.

Moreover, sixty cents of every dollar you spend in the supermarket goes for something other than food: transportation, processing, packaging, advertising. Add to that the taxes on every step along the way. The money you save by gardening is one of the few things that cannot be taxed.

Nor should one discount the therapy. Gardening gives a sense of control in at least one area of life, a reassurance that no matter what happens, something will be beautiful and there will be something to eat. I chalk up to my garden an unimaginable saving in psychiatric care.

A more obvious benefit comes with the exercise of yard work. You can say what you like about fitness sessions that you time by grunt and groan. I prefer to get my stoop, squat, and squint painlessly while I'm doing something I not only consider fun but know to be profitable.

A well landscaped property will be more valuable and sell more quickly than one that is not.

Perhaps even more important, landscaping add immensely to the value of a property. So if I want to buy a new tree or shrub, I consider it an investment that will multiply with the years.

Nor do I have to go any farther than my yard for excitement, entertainment, "kicks." Finding a bud on the orchid plant, a cardinal in the birdbath, or enough fruits to fill a basket can make me happy. My spouse says I'm cheap to keep and my children used to say I was weird until they started their own gardeners. Another gardener understands the thrills.

Now's the time to...

  • Pour over catalogs and garden books and plan some landscape improvements like cutting the lawn size by expanding the shrubs and ground covers or adding more color, texture, and interest to the your plantings.
  • Take inventory of the plants you have and how they are doing and decide which ones you want to replace, move, or prune to a different shape.