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July 23, 2015

Gardening & Nature as Therapy

Gardening & Nature as Therapy

By Dana Rademacher, intern at The Emily Program

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do…plus you get strawberries.” -Ron Finley, Ted Talk: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

Let’s be honest here for a second, I do not have the best track record when it comes to gardening and caring for plant life. I always get excited by the idea of gardening, but when push comes to shove, I’m just no good at keeping anything alive. I have the opposite of a green thumb if there is such a thing. Being busy between work and school, it is hard to find time to learn which plants are best for the climate, which fertilizer to use, or to even pay attention to the rain-to-sun ratio every day.

However, just as bad as I am at providing for nature, I am as equally sustained by it; I need it. It fills me with a deep sense of earthiness and calmness, which is why I have always gravitated towards wanting to garden and spending time in nature as my hobbies. As it turns out, research has also indicated that gardening and caring for plant life has many positive health benefits and is even used as part of therapy treatment for numerous mental health disorders, including eating disorders. Here are just a few of the many psychological benefits that gardening can provide:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Increase feelings of calm and relaxation
  • Increase sense of control
  • Increase sense of pride and accomplishment

(American Horticultural Therapy Association, 2007).

These alone are reason enough to give gardening a try but there are also specific benefits to those with eating disorders. For those of us with a complicated relationship with food, it can be hard to see food as something beautiful and life-sustaining. But from what I’ve experienced, learning the science behind food, getting your hands dirty, and actually seeing it grow can help change your attitude surrounding food. You can see how it starts off as a tiny seedling, and with your tender love and care, has grown into a beautiful fruit or vegetable. Without your nurturing, that food would not have been able to grow into something we can eat, into something that gives us life, and knowing you helped something live and thrive is a fantastic, proud moment.

Just as a plant or garden needs someone’s help to survive and blossom, we should remember that we humans need that too. We need our friends and family to be there for us, to shower us with love and care, to have faith in our growth, and to be our strongest support system, especially through our most difficult times. We are always growing and it is key to know we are surrounded by others who wish to see us flourish too!

If starting a garden seems a little difficult right now for you, try beginning with a small house plant, or make it a friends-and-family activity! I promise if it sounds like something you would want to try, leave behind your computer and smartphone, spend some time giving back to the earth and digging in the dirt; you will not regret it.

Finally, The Emily Program has been busy growing its own community garden at the St. Paul-Como location. These little seedlings will sprout up in no time so if you’re ever at the Como location, come check it out!

To learn more about nature and horticulture therapy, check out the American Horticulture Therapy Association’s website at

Get help. Find hope.