Ways Gardening Ups Your Zen

By Erica Browne Grivas

Maybe you’ve seen the meme “I garden so I don’t kill people?” While I hope you’re not in that space at the moment, there are many ways the garden soothes the savage beasts in our souls. See this post for my gardening-as-facial experience. You don’t even need a gravel garden to rake or a dedicated meditation/nap spot in your yard, although I’m all for them.

Maybe lock up the pruners?
Image, Blinkenzo.com

Get Moving

Movement and exercise go a long way to bevel the edges off our stress-sharpened nerve endings. This holds true whether your exertion is at a Tai Chi level, say choosing cast members for a table bouquet, or a triathlon level, like moving seven yards of mulch with one wheelbarrow.

Cultivate Mindfulness

Repetitive acts and those requiring close attention welcome our brains to enter the desirable “flow” state, which lowers stress and dampens our worrying Default Mode Network, the brain function that is questioning, criticizing, and looking out for danger signals. Instead of thinking ahead with anxiety about what’s to come or looking back with judgement, people in flow are just enjoying the moment, and it feels effortless. Time flies. We often see performing musicians, athletes, and public speakers in a flow state.

Paying attention sows the seeds of calm. Image, Wikipedia

In the garden, activities like sowing or weeding in rows, raking, refilling a line of pots, and deadheading are all flow-encouraging. For deadheading, may I recommend coreopsis, with a million blossoms dancing on thread-like stalks, or if you’re in a darker mood, decapitating spent rhododendron flowerheads. Pruning is of course an art of intense observation when done with intention.

You don’t need to recreate this gravel garden at Kennin-Ji Temple, Kyoto, but it could only help. Image, Wikimedia Commons

Mindful Ways to Put Your Art Into It

Maybe you’d prefer something less work-flavored. For fun, you can boost your observation skills by accessing your inner artist.

Some examples:

Garden writer Lorene Edwards Forkner has created a gorgeous new book out of her meditative practice that became an Instagram sensation and a gorgeous new book, “Color In and Out of the Garden“. Using flowers, twigs, stones, and shells as daily inspiration, she makes a 3 x 3 grid of squares in watercolor. This deceptively simple practice immerses the artist and the viewer in a mesmerizing wave of color.

Or, consider taking a page from Monet’s sketchbook – go out and observe the same plant (or haystack) every day for a month or once a month for a year.

Lorene Edwards Forkner’s watercolors became a meditative practice
Image, Slowflowersjournal.com
Monet’s haystacks through the seasons. Image, Artsology.com

Document the changes by:

  • Writing in a journal
  • In photographs
  • In sketches, or
  • Just enjoy noticing.

If you are a knitter or crocheter, a beautiful and simple way to cultivate mindfulness while appreciating your environment is making a scarf documenting the day’s weather, like this knitter on Ravelry.com who knit a few rows a day depicting the sky’s mood, which in Seattle would be 85% foggy skies sandwiching 15% summer sun. Others use colors to denote the temperature. Here’s one from knitter Josie George:

Breathe Deep

Lastly, and easiest of all, you can just go outside and breathe, perhaps lazily drawing your fingers through fluffy loam. Healthy soil contains certain microbiota that, when inhaled, encourage serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter antidepressants work to foster, but you can get it minus potential side effects by working in your soil. So spend some time with your soil, and your friends and loved ones will thank you.

This post is part of the #GardenBloggersChallenge sponsored by Gardencomm for the month of May. You are invited to join in and can see more details at gardencomm.org.

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