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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mental Health and The Vegetable Garden Part One: Positively Changing Your Structure & Routine



Mental Health and The Vegetable Garden
Part One: Positively Changing Your Structure & Routine
by Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden) 

I have been working in the field of mental health for nearly 30 years and have been a Clinical Mental Heath Therapist for the last 15 years. My grandfather introduced me to world of vegetable gardening when I was in elementary school. He came over one day with tomato transplants and dug a garden. He taught me how to plant and grow my own tomato plants. My memories of him, in the garden with me, continue today. What he taught me that day ignited a passion and that passion continues to influences my daily life.

Mental heath is really about life quality. We perceive the world. We feel the world. We interact with the world. We are social beings that interact with family, friends and the communities in which we live. Life quality is often influenced by our daily structures and weekly routines. They vary greatly person to person. Sometimes our structures and routines are defined, in part, by things outside of our control. What is within our control, the things we can change, is how we can begin to improve our mental health and the quality of our lives.


Early Spring Container Garden

Think about your daily structure and weekly routine. They really are about activity, and far to often, the lack of activity or negative activity. Hobbies, like growing a vegetable garden, can change the way you interact with the world, at many levels. Positive activity additions to your life will greatly benefit your mental health and sense of wellbeing. Small changes in your daily life can make large changes in the quality of your life. The key is breaking your routine and trying something new. Change will never knock at your door. You literally have to go outside and dig around for it.



The keyword is enjoy. Planting, tending and harvesting vegetables from your own garden is a wonderful way to bring more enjoyment to your life. Too often we look at career, income, possessions and status as ways to become happier. While these things are important, you can make changes on a smaller scale. You can find an improved sense of well-being by finding and adding activities that you, not only enjoy, but can also share with family and friends. Gardening is both a solitary and social activity. As much as you may enjoy time alone, social interaction is also needed in life. Sharing a passion with like people will improve your mental health.

Gardening is a wonderful hobby because Nature designed the plants to grow and produce in all types of conditions. You can make mistakes and still get vegetables. You will learn life lessons in the garden and can teach life lessons to your children. You don't need formal training to have a garden. You only need to get started.


My Tomato Garden

You will need earth, sunshine, water and a space. You can dig a small garden in your yard or start on your deck or patio with containers. If you don't have land or enough sun, you can find family and friends that do and start gardening with them. There is a good chance there are community gardens in your area where you can rent a space at a very low price. The biggest barrier to positive change is putting out the effort to break your routine and add something different to it. If you don't want to start alone or need some help, find some family members or friends that want to give gardening a try. Have fun, share the experience and most importantly just get started.

Gardening will improve your mental health in many ways. I think the most important thing it does is it occupies your mind in healthy way for a period of time. You begin to focus on and get lost in the activity. You notice the smell of the soil, feel the shovel digging into the earth and hear the sounds of birds chirping around you. You begin to create, shape and transform your garden, completing the day's task. People stop worrying about the past, present and future and become totally absorb in the care of their garden. This process is called mindfulness.

When we lack positive or constructive daily activity and sit, we often dwell on the negative aspects of our lives. Caring for a vegetable garden takes you away from being sedentary and alone with unstructured time. It gets you out and interacting with your world. The outdoors, sunshine and plants will always beat staying indoors. Your are not only changing what you do but are changing how you think and perceive the world around you. This type of change may seem small but the impact on how you begin to feel is quite large.




Gardening will also reward you with a sense of accomplishment over and over again. The feeling of accomplishment leads to an improvement in self esteem. Taking a space and turning the ground over will be rewarding. Planting your first seeds and seeing them germinate will be rewarding. Picking your first radish will be rewarding. Tasting the herbs you grew in a meal will be rewarding. Remembering when you first turned the ground, planted a tiny tomato seed only to be standing next to a six foot tall plant full of red cherry tomatoes... will be deeply rewarding. Taking those cherry tomatoes to your family and friends and hearing how sweet they are will bring you a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Making changes to your life is not always easy. Gardening can be hard work. But if you start today, you and your garden will be better tomorrow. The second year gardener always does better than their first year. The third year gardener wants more land and new seed varieties to plant. The fourth year gardener now has a daily structure and weekly routine they love and enjoy and will never give up. If you are interested in gardening, start small, start with a friend, join some FaceBook gardening groups and start watching videos. You'll find the motivation to get started and begin to notice how getting lost in your garden helps you find a way to improve your mental health, life quality and overall well being.

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