Why Gardening makes you Happy and cures Depression

While mental health experts warn about depression as a global epidemic, other researchers are discovering ways we trigger our natural production of happy chemicals that keep depression at bay, with surprising results. All you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own food.

In recent years I've come across two completely independent bits of research that identified key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine. What fascinated me as a permaculturist and gardener were that the environmental triggers happen in the garden when you handle the soil and harvest your crops.

Getting down and dirty is the best 'upper' – Serotonin
Getting your hands dirty in the garden can increase your serotonin levels – contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain according to research. Serotonin is a happy chemical, a natural anti-depressant and strengthens the immune system. Lack of serotonin in the brain causes depression.

Ironically, in the face of our hyper-hygienic, germicidal, protective clothing, obsessive health-and-safety society, there's been a lot of interesting research emerging in recent years regarding how good dirt is for us, and dirt-deficiency in childhood is implicated in contributing to quite a spectrum of illnesses including allergies, asthma and mental disorders.

At least now I have a new insight into why I compulsively garden without gloves and have always loved the feeling of getting my bare hands into the dirt and compost heap.

Harvest 'High' – Dopamine
Another interesting bit of research relates to the release of dopamine in the brain when we harvest products from the garden. The researchers hypothesise that this response evolved over nearly 200,000 years of hunter gathering, that when food was found (gathered or hunted) a flush of dopamine released in the reward centre of brain triggered a state of bliss or mild euphoria. The dopamine release can be triggered by sight (seeing a fruit or berry) and smell as well as by the action of actually plucking the fruit.

The contemporary transference of this brain function and dopamine high has now been recognised as the biological process at play in consumers addiction or compulsive shopping disorder. Of course the big retail corporations are using the findings to increase sales by provoking dopamine triggers in their environments and advertising.

I have often remarked on the great joy I feel when I forage in the garden, especially when I discover and harvest the 'first of the season', the first luscious strawberry to ripen or emergence of the first tender asparagus shoot. (and yes, the photo is my hand plucking a deliciously sweet strawberry in my garden) I have also often wondered why I had a degree of inherent immunity to the retail-therapy urges that afflict some of my friends and acquaintances. Maybe as a long-term gardener I've been getting a constant base-load dopamine high which has reduced the need to seek other ways to appease this primal instinct. Though, I must admit with the benefit of hindsight, I now have another perspective on my occasional 'shopping sprees' at local markets buying plants for the garden.

Of course dopamine responses are triggered by many other things and is linked with addictive and impulsive behaviour. I suppose the trick is to rewire our brains to crave the dopamine hit from the garden and other more sustainable pursuits and activities. As a comment on PlanetDrumstated, "all addiction pathways are the same no matter what the chemical. As long as you feel rewarded you reinforce the behavior to get the reward." So in other words it all comes down to the fact that we can't change our craving nature but we CAN change the nature of what we crave.

Strengthening the Case for Organic
Glyphosate residues deplete your Serotonin and Dopamine levels
Of course, for all of the above to work effectively and maintain those happy levels of serotonin and dopamine, there's another prerequisite according to another interesting bit of research I found. It appears it will all work much better with organic soil and crops that haven't been contaminated with Roundup or Glyphosate-based herbicides. This proviso also extends to what you eat, so ideally you'll avoid consuming non-organic foods that have been grown in farmland using glyphosates.

A recent study in 2008 discovered that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, depletes serotonin and dopamine levels in mammals. Contrary to Monsanto claims, glyphosate and other Roundup ingredients do perpetuate in the environment, in soil, water, plants and in the cells and organs of animals. One study found glyphosate residues in cotton fabric made from Roundup-ready GM cotton can absorb into the skin and into our nervous and circulatory systems.

No wonder there's so much depression around, and stress, and all the addictions and compulsive disorders in the pursuit of feeling good. I think back on when I moved to Sydney in 1984 for a few years and was contacting community centres in the inner west to see if there was interest in permaculture or gardening classes. A very terse social worker snapped at me "listen dear, we don't need gardening classes, we need stress therapy classes", and promptly hung up on me with a resounding "Huh!" when I replied that gardening was the best stress therapy I knew. So enjoy the garden, fresh organic food and make sure you have fun playing in the dirt on a regular basis.

Robyn Francis 2010


The Value of Gardening as a Hobby

People look forward to gardening every day because it's a rewarding hobby. You get to raise plants that would remain seeds without you and sometimes enjoy the literal fruits of your labor after a harvest. Depending on the size of your garden, you may spend a couple of hours taking care of it or check on it a few times each day.

Benefits of Gardening as a Hobby
Plants Clean Your Air
Most people learned in school that trees filter CO2 out of the air. They absorb CO2 and exchange it for fresh oxygen, cleaning the atmosphere a little bit at a time. Smaller plants do the same thing, even in your backyard.

Don't worry about having to grow the traditional spider plants to breathe fresh air in your yard. You can also grow plants like gerbera daisies and peace lilies. Most indoor plants that typically clean indoor air can grow in your outdoor garden without an issue.

Gardening Relieves Stress
It's no mistake that you feel better after you finish taking care of your garden for the day. The routine of tending your plants and working with your hands helps relieve even the worst stress.

Dutch researchers proved this scientifically with a study focused on stressed-out groups gardening or reading. The gardening group experienced lower cortisol levels, which is the hormone related to stress. Making a positive change in the world banishes stress and improves your stress levels.

Your Heart Gets Stronger
Other scientists were curious about how gardening affects your heart, so a team of researchers with the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study. Their results found that gardening counts as a moderate-intensity exercise, which reduces heart attack odds by 30% for people over 60 years old.
It's an easy, low-impact exercise for those who can't jog on the treadmill or access a gym.

You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Gardening as a hobby also helps the planet in more ways than one. If you grow food in your garden, like tomatoes and lettuce, you're also reducing your carbon footprint.
When you eat veggies from your backyard, you're spending less money on pre-packaged and transported products at the grocery store. Currently, the food industry is responsible for emitting 26% of global CO2 waste by transporting food from suppliers to grocery stores. Stop funding this ecological waste by growing what you can in your garden for your meals.

Your Self-Esteem Grows
Anyone who has raised a successful garden knows how great it feels to see it bloom and harvest your food. That confidence comes from your self-esteem, which quickly grows as you watch your garden flourish.

The best way to experience this benefit is to incorporate new garden plants into your routine and challenge your skills. This year, grow something you've never tried, like a vine plant or fruit tree. As you adapt to new gardening habits, your self-esteem will flourish alongside your plants.

Growing Plants Helps Your Brain
Your brain adapts to your gardening habits more than you think. A group of researchers published their findings recently after tracking over 3,000 subjects for 16 years. They found that when these subjects gardened regularly, their risk for dementia dropped by 36-47%, which is a massive difference for those with dementia in your family history.

Although much about dementia and Alzheimer's remains a mystery, gardening requires people to practice critical functions like dexterity, strength and problem-solving. Lifestyle factors could be an essential way to avoid brain diseases or delay their progression.

Gardens Help Local Wildlife
Native plants encourage bees to pollinate local plants and improve the environment for local wildlife. Gardens also provide shelter for smaller insects who need protection from predators and the summer sun.

Think about growing more native plants this year in your garden to promote the well-being of your regional environment.

Experience Gardening as a Hobby for Yourself
You can experience all of these gardening benefits by getting outside this year. Grow your favorite veggies, local plants and more. You'll love how you help yourself and the environment with an easy and fun hobby you can start today.


Vertical Gardening and its Impact

In the current times where there are cramped living environments, no space to breath and pollution everywhere, the thought of having a home garden looks farfetched. However, this isn't the case. Anybody can have their very own green space and can participate in the pleasure of growing and harvesting their own food, and benefit from the self-sufficiency and superior nutrition. It's simply a case of making the most of the space you have.Way back in 1938, Professor Stanley Hart White of the University of Illinois created a unique concept – the Vegetation-bearing Architectonic Structure and System. Or what is now known as the "Vertical Garden". But the credit for modernising and popularizing the concept goes to French botanist Patrick Blanc, who has created green walls in several spaces, particularly in Europe.

So, what is a vertical garden?
It is an innovative and highly productive growing system that uses bottom-up and top-down supports for a wide variety of plants in both small and large garden spaces. Plants are grown in an upward-directed, vertical way, thus making optimal use of the existing space. A vertical garden, or a green wall can be attached to the exterior or interior of a building. It differs from a green façade in that the plants root in a structural support that is fastened to the wall itself. They receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support instead of from the ground. Benefits of vertical gardening

Vertical gardens provide several aesthetic, economic, physiological and environmental benefits. A vertical garden enables you to maximise and fully utilize limited space, especially in congested urban areas.

Here are some other benefits of a green wall:
Food security: Vertical gardening is an excellent method of growing food in areas where space is limited. The different vertical garden technologies provide effective, simple and sustainable methods of growing fruits, vegetables and herbs, thus enhancing food security for urban communities and populations that face lack of agricultural spaces.

Improvement of air quality: Vertical gardens improve both indoor and outdoor air quality by removing harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and absorbing pollutants. Growing plants vertically, even in compact spaces such as windowsills, balconies, front entrances, and so forth, makes an appreciable difference to the air that you breathe in.

Thermal insulation: Green walls provide insulation to buildings, so there is less demand for power to heat or cool them. A vertical garden keeps a building cool in summer and warm in winter, thus enabling you to save electricity.

Aesthetic benefits: Vertical gardens enable you to maximise limited space and reclaim disregarded space. A green wall can transform empty space into aesthetically pleasing and creatively stimulating eye candy.