I have suffered from and have been diagnosed with several different types of mental disorders since my teen years. I am so blessed to say that with intensive therapy and at some points medication, I have been able to overcome a lot of those disorders. I’m not ‘cured’ by any means and still suffer from anxiety disorders as well as seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD.
SAD is an appropriate name for a disorder where the season dictates your mood- which typically happens to be… sad. Usually the depression sets in for the winter months, alleviates in spring, and this cycle occurs on a year to year basis. There are higher incidences of SAD in countries farther away from the equator, and in women.
I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, North America’s largest, most northern city. You think I would have a handle on this whole ‘winter’ thing. But I dread winter, not because of the cold, which is fairly worth complaining about as our coldest days can get down to -35C (-31F), but because of the mind-numbing depression that sets in in January and lasts until April.
Our winter season lasts from late October to early April. That’s 6 months of winter. On December 21, the winter solstice, the sun sets at 4:14 in the afternoon. You wake up in the dark and eat supper in the dark. In contrast, on our summer solstice, the sun sets at 10:07 PM. Let me sum that up for you: COLD, LONG, DARK winters, and short bright summers.
Yeah. That’s cold.
I typically get through the fall ok; school starts and everything is busy, busy, BUSY. Before you know it, it’s Christmas. But once the spirit of good will and cheer subsides and the stark reality that it’s not going to be spring for another 4 months settles in, it is SO hard, nay, near impossible, to see the light at the end of the cold, snowy tunnel. The only thought that gets me through is that spring is coming.
Two years after being married, we moved into our current house. We wanted to move from our condo because I was desperate for a yard to garden in. I remember gardening as a child; we would get to plant all the big seeds, the ones that little fingers could easily portion out and stick into the dirt- the peas, beets, swiss chard, and beans. I remember running up and down the garden rows, snatching peas and raspberries, utterly thrilled that I had helped to grow the food I was ravenously consuming.
Those are some of the most beautiful highlights from my childhood and I couldn’t wait to be able to design an outdoor space to be my families own nostalgic Eden.
My Eden in the height of summer.
When we first moved into our house, the yard was a barren waste land and was covered in sprawling lilacs and over grown rose brambles. There were poured, concrete slabs scattered randomly around the yard and an 8×8 feet patio covered in large broken concrete tiles. We moved in in June and even though it had been 15 years since I had put a seed in soil, I was determined to grow a garden. I flipped over the broken tiles, ripped up the heavy duty plastic barrier and underneath was glorious, black, dirt.
There was no Pinterest back then, so, not knowing anything but my foggy childhood memories and the instructions from the back of the seed packet, planted my first garden. The harvest was abundant. I was astonished.The wonderful thing about gardening? You put some seeds in dirt, water it, wait a little while and something will typically grow. Gardening has the easiest, and most fun learning curve. You can start cultivating earth with no former experience or knowledge and still be fairly successful!
I noticed within the first few years of gardening that my mood was significantly improved after each gardening session. The more time I spent outdoors, the happier I felt. I could be having the shittiest* of days, but give me some uninterrupted time in the yard, and I would be able to breathe deeply and recalibrate. The fresh air invigorated, the sun poured down vitamin D, and I would go to bed after a day of gardening with sore yet stronger muscles. The fruit of my labours was literally fresh, organic fruit and vegetables. I can’t be any clearer about how awesome this is! I got food out of the deal people!
It’s been 9 years since I started that patio garden and now I have a 380 sq. ft foot veggie garden, a 160 sq. ft perennial herb garden (that is in the process of being transformed into a medicinal herb garden) and a 260 sq. ft cutting flower garden in the front yard. I cultivate 12 different kinds of fruit trees and shrubs and will be adding more every year until I run out of space. One day I hope to add quails and chickens (for eggs) as well as cultivate mushrooms. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished and what I know I will accomplish.
Every year, I spend thousands of hours obsessed with getting my hands in the dirt and turning my abandoned lot into the lush, self-sustaining oasis of my dreams.
Front flower bed with a bench I made from a crib I found in the dumpster!
I find that when the sweat is pouring down my neck while chopping an old stump out of the ground, I don’t have time to wallow in life’s hardships…
When I’m able to put some seeds in the dirt, watch those little sprouts come up, tend them, and then be able to harvest delicious organic food and feed it to my family, it lessens the anxiety I feel about the state of our environment and the health of my children…
When I’m lying in my hammock, the plum blossom scent lingering in the cool shade, I know that there is serenity in the world.
When it’s the dead of January and the prospect of spring is soooo out of reach that the only way I can get through it, is to plan and scheme about where I might be able to fit another honey berry bush, I find it’s easier to be thankful that the winter I’m suffering through, affords me the time to research and plan.
I believe the research and planning of my garden has been paramount in relieving symptoms of SAD during the winter, and then through intensive gardening in the spring, completely cures it. Before I had access to gardening my depression would stretch on into the summer and indefinitely. Technically the symptoms would turn into episodes of major depression which could then only be treated with pharmaceutical medication.
Gardening offers me peace of mind. And that’s not just a catchy sentiment I’m throwing out there. Putting my hands in the soil, literally makes my mind peaceful. I view cultivating my patch of earth, the same as I view cultivating my mind. By intentionally tending my cognitive functions, I can pull out the noxious weeds of destructive thought patterns. This leaves room for the growth of hope. This in turn allows for creativity, which in itself, makes me happier and healthier
. Cultivating makes me a better citizen of humanity on so many different levels.
In today’s culture, the average person has become so removed from the outside environment that they have also been completely cut out of the agricultural equation. Now, typically the only source of food for most people, comes from corporate grocery stores, when, only a few generations ago, a majority of food and produce came from our backyards or local, independent food sources. Most people have no clue how to grow their own food and are completely dependent on an unsustainable agricultural method.** We have lost touch with a basic fundamental human knowledge- we no longer understand how to independently feed ourselves, and the results are that we have become an ill and suffering society
I’ve talked about the mental and physical benefits of gardening but here are several more reasons to start cultivating:
Have I mentioned that you get virtually free food out of the deal? You can buy a bulk packet of seeds for $3.50 and can plant several years’ worth of crops with that one packet. I know of quite a few people who have added up the bills and have realized they have saved THOUSANDS of dollars by growing and preserving their own food.***
The young ones.
I think it is also our moral obligation to teach our children where food comes from. There is this great Kashi commercial
that asks children to identify common foods. They got every single chemically saturated, prepared meal correct- mac&cheese, pizza, donuts, etc. but couldn’t name common varieties of vegetables. So sad. And scary. Children need to learn how to grow food if they have any hope of sustainability in an uncertain agricultural future.
Aurora’s giant beet!
I have involved my children in gardening, starting at the tender age of 3. Yes, most of them just ate dirt, but they have all grown up actively participating in garden chores (sowing the big seeds, “picking” rocks, harvesting, and seed gathering) and they thoroughly enjoy it! My eldest, Aurora has really taken a keen interest in all things horticultural and spends hours in the garden with me. Her record was a 6 hour gardening day, 2 years ago. I was 9 months pregnant and bending down to seed was near impossible, so Aurora, of her own volition seeded almost the whole garden for me! She was six!
Master gardener by 18?
I also believe that because my children have been eating food from the garden since they were 5 months old, and then have grown up being actively involved in growing their own food, have an insatiable appetite for vegetables and fruits.
Every fruit and vegetable we can locally grow and consume, lowers our carbon footprint. Another amazing environmental benefit, is that when we grow gardens we are offering bees’ wider diversity of pollinating plants which aids in their survival. Also, when we put all our produce scraps into the compost bin and not in the garbage, we are saving tons of waste from filling our dumps.
This is one benefit of gardening I never expected. It is incredible how many neighbours and passing strangers I have been able to interact with while tending my front garden. Being in my front yard makes me visible in my community. As a result I have been able to make lasting friendships with others on my block who admire the work I’ve done or have questions about growing their own gardens. Sometimes I meet others who are just as obsessed with gardening as I am and it is so fun to nerd out over our horticultural hobbies. Plus, I have been able to join gardening clubs, and have learned so much from gardeners who have been cultivating for 60 or more years!
***And can I just mention how incredibly soul satisfying it is in the dead of winter, to pull out a jar of cherry jam, fresh from the previous season, open it up and literally be able to taste the essence of summer. It’s glorious. It’s like you’re taking a bite of sunshine.***
Every one of us needs to put our hands in dirt and grow something.
If you have access to cultivating, whether it’s in your own yard, a friend/families yard, a community garden, an abandoned lot, on your balcony, or on your window sill, please, for the sake of your mental and physical health, grow something, grow food; GROW. Not only will you reconnect with what sustains you, you will be able to feed your body, mind and soul.
Does gardening help your health? Are there other benefits of gardening that I missed? Please comment here or on Renaissance Revival’s Facebook page
. I would love to hear from you!
* $.25 for the swear jar- sometimes there is no other word for a bad day.
**If bees die off due to pesticides and colony collapse, how will the big agriculture industry grow vast amounts of food that is dependent on pollination? Even if we figure out this problem, what happens when we run out of oil, how will we ship food, a majority of it being from international sources?
***Some of the food and produce from the garden from the last few years: