Sowing the Seeds of Wellbeing
By Arwen Lawless Low
Sometimes I pretend I’m in a garden. It’s 11 pm, and I’m hunkering down to finish up a position paper for Model United Nations or an article for The Plant. I quickly look up “garden ambience” on YouTube and play whatever the first result is. The sounds of chirping birds and a bubbling brook soothe me and set me free from the stress of deadlines. A small part of me is raptured up into this lush world, where one can lie back and watch the grass grow. In reality, I’m boxed into my bedroom, 20 feet above ground in an apartment. The only greenery is a dying houseplant. So why does my brain want to teleport me to this idyllic garden, somewhere I have no real experience with?
It might be because there’s something almost intrinsically human about gardening. Indeed, the origins of civilization have often been traced back to the start of agriculture, some 10 000 years ago. This is mainly speculation on my part, but it would make sense for us to find something that kept us alive rewarding. Perhaps, then, my escapist gardening fantasies are instinctive, the muscle memory of thousands of years worth of toiling the land. When I’m experiencing higher levels of stress and feeling detached from the demands of my extracurriculars, maybe my imagination tries to subconsciously tie me to something familiar, and as simply grounding as knowing your work allows your survival.
More likely though, this is a fantastical thought coming from someone so detached from hard labour that gruelling subsistence agriculture seems appealing. Regardless, research has shown that there are actual, concrete benefits from gardening on mental health. A 2017 meta-analysis compiled by Masashi Soga, Kevin J. Gaston and Yuichi Yamaura of 21 case studies across the world showed that gardening had beneficial effects on mental health. Gardening was found to help participants cope with depression, improve their attention span and self-esteem, create a sense of community and sociability, and even assuage existential fears.
The effects of gardening on well-being can be seen indirectly in this practice’s popularity. One 2015 survey found that 117 million Americans, a third of the population of the United States, actively gardened. Interestingly, a study by Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab revealed that 51% of Canadians had grown their own food during the pandemic, and cited benefits such as relaxation and physical exercise to be the motivating factors. This rings true for Mia Kennedy, the Sports Editor here at The Plant and a gardening aficionado, who said that she enjoyed this hobby because it allowed her to “get the wellness benefits from being out in nature and doing exercise all in one.”
Mia recently partook in an event organized by the Green Earth Club, which saw Dawson students come together and make “seed bombs” as a part of their ongoing Rewilding Lawns initiative. Students created mud balls filled with seeds that are native to local ecosystems in hopes of bringing wildlife back. Liam Gaither, the environmental science student who first proposed this project, wanted to encourage club members to break their “discomfort around getting dirt under their fingernails” and help them become “more observant with regard to their surrounding neighbourhood and landscape.” For Mia, who experiences eco-anxiety, the kind of healthier gardening that Rewilding Lawns encourages helps people regain a feeling of control over the climate crisis.
As we finish up the school year and plan our holidays, consider adding gardening to your summer bucket list! You might be sowing the seeds to your own well-being.