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David Trinklein
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9631

The Goodness of Gardening

David Trinklein
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9631

April 11,2024

minute read

hands cupping dirt with seedling

(Credit: Adobe Stock Images)

No occupation is so delightful to me
as the culture of the earth,
and no culture comparable
to that of the garden.

—Thomas Jefferson

April is National Garden Month. It is an opportunity to create a living tapestry that reflects your personal style, supports the environment, and provides a space for relaxation and enjoyment. Make the most of National Gardening Month this April to embrace the joys of gardening and outdoor living – hopefully, you will find a new avocation that takes you through this growing season and many more in the future.

woman smiling holding pot of figs in flower garden

Statistics indicate over 185 million people in the U.S. enjoy the benefits of gardening. (Credit: Shutterstock.com)

1. Economic

Saving money is on the mind of most people, and vegetable gardening is an excellent way to save on the family food bill. The National Gardening Association estimates that a well-maintained vegetable garden yields an average return of $500 per year. Multiplied by the number of vegetable gardens in the country (36 million), the NGA estimates that American food gardeners are producing more than $21.6 billion of produce a year.

You don't have to spend $500 on a raised bed filled with an artificial growing medium to benefit economically from growing vegetables. A study by Burpee Seeds revealed that $50 spent on gardening supplies can be multiplied into $1,250 worth of produce annually. This twenty-fold return on investment also was documented by a national survey conducted a number of years ago. Simply put, if vegetable gardening does not reduce your food bill you are doing something wrong.

2. Health

It has been well documented that physical activity is important for maintaining good health, both physical and mental. The digging, hoeing, raking, etc. associated with gardening are great forms of exercise while doing something productive. The average gardener burns between 300 and 400 calories per hour while gardening. That same person would have to walk about four miles at a fairly brisk pace to use up the same number of calories. Someone once remarked, "gardening is a labor of love; a treadmill is just labor." Also, research has shown that gardening reduces stress which is all too much a part of our daily lives and can lead to health problems of various types.

For those who garden to produce food, eating fresh vegetables and fruits is known to be important for good health. The availability of fresh, inexpensive produce from the family garden is conducive to maintaining good dietary habits and (at times) encourages greater vegetable consumption. Plant zucchini in a garden and you suddenly are looking for new recipes to make good use of the bounty of your harvest.

3. Psychological

Gardening is good for one's inner self. By allowing people to connect with nature and other living things, gardening tends to restore our spirits and make us feel good about ourselves. Simply being surrounded by growing plants and blooming flowers is a way to become immersed in another world and a diversion from the stresses and demands of life. Working with plants tends to divert one's attention from other trials and tribulations of life and affords people the opportunity to achieve a level of serenity and enjoyment that often escapes us in our technologically based society.

Humans need to feel needed and successful in life. Planting and caring for a flourishing flower or vegetable garden imparts a sense of accomplishment without unreasonable expectations often placed upon us by society.

4. Environmental

Gardens benefit our planet in many ways. They reduce our carbon footprint by growing food locally instead of having it shipped in from distant locations. Plants take in carbon dioxide as they manufacture food thus helping to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gasses. Gardens help to reduce soil erosion by slowing rainfall runoff and allowing it to infiltrate more slowly into the ground. Additionally, gardens tend to serve as a food source and gathering place for many types of wildlife such as butterflies and birds.

5. Social

Working together strengthens the bonds between people. Gardening represents a universal language that can strengthen family relationships and is a wonderful way for generations of family members to interact. The most valuable "produce" from a garden just might be the joy derived from working with family and friends.

Gardening also can help bring communities closer together, ameliorating differences between socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. For example, research has shown that community gardens and urban forests lead to a lower level of crime and domestic violence in cities.

6. Educational

Gardening is a learning experience; every year provides different challenges from which one can learn. Gardening can encourage children and adults alike to be more curious about their surroundings and nature. It is a great way to teach youngsters the joy that can come from work and that positive results are not always instantaneous in life. Gardens make us more aware of our senses through simulation of sight, smell, and touch. They can motivate people in many ways and serve as a creative inspiration.

In short, gardens and gardening remind us of everything that is good about life–the beauty of nature, the feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment for having done something productive and the realization that our efforts are helping to improve ourselves, our society, and our physical/biological environment.

The bottom line, then, is not how you garden; it's if you garden. Organic or non-organic, raised bed or conventional, hydroponic, or soil–based probably make very little difference. Ultimately, there probably isn't a best way to garden, as long as you garden. For those of you who are gardeners, best wishes for the upcoming growing season–relish it while it lasts. For those of you who are not, there is no time like the present to start.

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REVISED: April 11, 2024