It has not been long since I took up gardening. But on looking back, I realized that I had it in me all along. I didn’t have the time and space for it, living in hostels for nine years and in a rented place in Delhi for two years. I remember that my aunt took me to the garden when I was a kid and let me put seeds on the ground which she tilled. She said some hands reap more bountiful harvest. She didn’t know people call it ‘green thumb’ or ‘green fingers’ elsewhere, but she knew the concept. It is amazing how beliefs like this exist among folks who have not read or heard about them from other peoples and cultures.
I also remember that I had a plastic basin in my hostel room which had multiple plants in it. Among them, a Gul Mohor tree in the middle, and money plant creeper circling the pot. It was in my second year of medical college (2001-02) when I first saw Bonsai trees at an exhibition in Imphal. The memory lingered until I tried my hands on it from 2014. While in JNU, I loved the green campus and remember visiting a plant nursery.
My grandmother was among the first commercial vegetable growers in Pfutsero. My mother inherited the passion. My dad is a die-hard nature lover. When sick or weary, he would prefer to go to the forest for relief. And it now seems to run in the family.
Before I get carried away (I already am), let me say the fivefold benefits of gardening. This list comes from experience and is not drawn from a textbook.
Gardening helps maintain body weight
It goes without saying that gardening requires the working of muscles, bones and roasting of fats. A quote says that physical exercise is not only the fats you lose but the life you gain.
For maintenance of body weight, it is recommended to exercise 150 minutes weekly, translated to 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Exercise which is beneficial should be strenuous enough that you breathe heavily. Once you begin an exercise session, each bout should be not less than 10 minutes duration. For losing weight, an hour a day is recommended.
In gardening, you may not be able to exercise the various body parts systematically. But the benefits are these: Plain physical exercise can be boring, burdensome, and difficult to sustain. But if you garden, you are so engaged to the task that you lose track of time. It doesn’t appear laborious. Also the other benefits of gardening mentioned below are much greater in gardening than plain physical exercise. Exercise can seem like a waste of time, but in gardening, you know you are doing and producing something useful.
Gardening improves mental health
‘Life is better in the garden’
‘You are now entering a stress free zone’ (Garden gate sign)
‘I am more myself in a garden than anywhere else on earth’
‘You can bury a lot of troubles by digging in the dirt’
‘Anyone who has time for drama is not gardening enough’
What do these quotes imply? Gardening reduces stress and improves mental health. ‘After coming back from work, why do you work in the garden again?’ I am asked. It is because I do not consider gardening as work but therapy. From the pulls and pushes of busy urban life, the mind gets weary. But the sight of green leaves provide relief and a sense that life isn’t so bad. There are not many things in life which can be compared to the joy of seeing a cutting taking root, a seed germinating, a bud opening up to flower and turning into a fruit.
Japanese has the practice of forest bathing where a walk in the forest is used as a form of medicine. It lets the freshness of nature bathe your soul.
Gardening improves diet
‘Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes’
You aren’t sure if the vegetables you buy from the market are laden with chemicals. Added to that, you now doubt if your apples and cabbages are even real. Plastic rice, plastic eggs, plastic cabbage, plastic-wrapped apples, and the list may be much longer. If you garden, you are sure of what you produce and you know it is much healthier and fresher. The food you buy might have travelled thousands of miles over days and weeks and lost all freshness. When you garden, the vegetables go straight from the soil to the tummy.
Due to congestion, time and space have become constraints in gardening in urban places. Each day has the exact 24 hours and it is for you to make the time. No one can give you an extra minute for gardening. If you can’t go wide, it is possible to go up. Vertical gardening, hydroponics, terrace gardening are options to explore.
Gardening can provide a source of side-income
Selling your produce is optional. You may not plan to sell. But the vegetables you grow save your money. It also saves you in the long run from diseases and their treatment costs. Last year, I started a backyard plant nursery. I grow a few vegetables for own consumption but grow flowering shrubs and ornamental plants for business. I sold at home and through help of a retail shop. I made around Rs. 10,000 last year and 13,000 this year. If I add my parents’ plant nursery and fruit sales, we made almost 2 lakhs this year. But I cannot include my dad’s here because I am talking about ‘side income’. With receding forest cover, urbanization, decreasing land for cultivation, increasing awareness for organic food, appreciation of flowers and green places, it is likely that opportunities are there for business. Road side vendors dealing on potted plants have been increasing. Growing specialty plants like medicinal or culinary herbs, ground-covers, bonsai or pre-bonsai, landscaping services, vertical gardening kits and services etc are potential areas for full-time or part-time business.
Gardening fosters concern for the natural environment
Amidst environmental pollution and destruction, developing a plant nursery is a way of renewing the natural environment. Gardening may not reduce global warming by much, but it is strong in symbolism and creates awareness that the fragile earth which sustains us must be conserved. One who tills the earth easily develops a bond with it. This may be an explanation why some people worship nature. Climate change is real and it is going to disproportionately affect people who mostly depend on the natural resources for livelihood. Planting a tree and caring for it is a way of doing our part in creation care and reversal of the current trend of destruction.
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