Gardening is an important aspect of many people’s lives. Most gardeners will often talk about how therapeutic it is to work in their garden beds. From personal experience, even keeping a few house plants can be an excellent coping mechanism. The power of nature is evident not only in the personal experiences of many people but also in the scientific research that has been done in gardening communities.

George Miller (1969) stated that the goal of the field of psychology is to promote the welfare of the public. Though this was said over 50 years ago, this holds true today. We can use psychological research to help better ourselves and the community we belong to. Many topics of research are inspired and informed by events that happen in our society. Research on racial bias was driven by the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of people of color facing poverty and legal prosecution. Research on false memory was sparked in the U.S. by the number of women in the media claiming to have been abused as children. Today, these topics of research are still relevant and have been used to counter many systems that cause suffering in our community.

Psychology can help people not only on a cultural level but on an individual level. Self-help books are one of the most popular ways in which people work on trying to live healthier and happier lives. However, to be most effective, they need to be informed by psychological research (Schamel, 2020). Many books written for self-help are not informed by research and are rather written based on the author’s personal experience and intuition. While there is nothing inherently wrong with personal experience and intuition, they are not necessarily the most helpful. Most personal experiences are not universal and intuition is often wrong. In the worst cases, this can be detrimental to the reader and the culture we live in. An example of this could be self-proclaimed “pick-up artists” whose advice has been known to be manipulative towards women. On the other hand, a good example of self-help might be a gardening book.

Gardening is a very effective self-help tool on both an individual and community level. When established in low-income communities, it changes the environment by both providing healthy food and reducing the financial stress of buying food. Community gardens are an effective wise intervention. Wise interventions, as discussed by Walton, and Wilson (2018), address a problem on a systematic level. Many social problems are recursively perpetuated by a positive feedback loop, which then prevents the problematic behavior from changing. An unhealthy environment causes maladaptive behavior. The behavior causes the environment to become more unhealthy. A wise intervention aims to address and change either the behavior, the environment, or both in order to halt the detrimental feedback loop. When this is done, the behavior will become more beneficial to the environment and the environment will influence a more adaptive behavior.

Gardening has been a therapeutic hobby for many people long before psychologists started researching it. People who regularly experience nature, be it through hiking, camping, or gardening, report feeling refreshed (Lin, Egerer, & Ossola, 2018). When people garden, they feel a sense of pride in what they have grown. Kids are known to be picky about their vegetables, but when children grow them themselves, they will eat them (Finley, 2013). It gives them a sense of self-efficacy and pride. Gardening has also been shown to increase attention capacity (Berto, 2005). While gardening reduces feelings of stress and increases mood, it also helps people at their job or in school. When we garden, we are essentially performing a kind of meditation (Howard, 2011). When engaging in meditative activities, we are strengthening our executive functions which allow us to better engage in whichever task we are doing at any given moment (Lassander, Hintsanen, Suominen, Mullola, Fagerlund, Vahlberg, & Volanen, 2020).

The benefits of gardening can also be seen in physical well-being. Research has found that gardening reduces cortisol levels in research participants, reducing stress on the body and mind (Van Den Berg & Custers, 2010). When we reduce stress, we reduce the risk for a multitude of diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Additionally, gardening has been shown to boost our metabolic functions, making it a form of exercise (Van Den Berg & Custers, 2010). Exercise helps reduce our risk for illness, as well, making gardening an effective method to help your body. While stress reduction and exercise are important, gardening offers your body a unique benefit that is uncommon to other physical intervention methods. Gardening exposes your body to wild bacteria and other microbes. These microbes not only introduce the immune system to new foreign organisms, but also have a direct relationship to the functionality of your brain (Naveed, Zhou, Xu, Taleb, Fan, Ahmed, & Han, 2020). Having a strong gut biome helps increase the efficiency of our brain’s functionality and can help fight against depression, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses.

The physical and mental benefits of gardening are apparent in both research and personal experience. However, one of the biggest benefits of gardening comes from its social and community benefits. People who interact with nature often do so together, creating a sense of community. This is especially evident in urban environments where people generally do not get the opportunity to interact with nature. Gardening in these environments creates positive experiences and builds knowledge of natural forces around us (Lin, Egerer, & Ossola, 2018). We feel connected with nature and each other when we garden together or walk on a nature trail. We feel a further connection to each other when we garden for each other. Gardening helps communities living in urban areas where grocery stores are inaccessible, also called food deserts (Ron Finley, 2013). In food deserts, most of the food available is unhealthy. It takes money to get good food. However, when we grow and create gardens in low-income communities, we see healthier and happier communities. The people who build and use these gardens feel closer to each other and feel a sense of pride for doing good in their communities.

Gardening addresses both the behavior and the environment simultaneously and on personal and community levels. This makes gardening an effective wise intervention as well as a self-help method. The physical change in the environment reduces the financial burden of food, reduces stress, and promotes positive affect and social interactions. These changes cause people to participate in further changing their environment for the better. However, cultivating a horticultural intervention requires initiative. People need to take responsibility for their own health as well as the health of their community by playing an active role in building relationships and engaging in activities. While not everyone who uses a garden necessarily helped build it, the people who built and help maintain the garden are those who will get the most out of it (Matta, 2010). Community interventions are done best at a personal level. Gardening can be a good way to benefit everyone financially, mentally, and physically, but it requires work and active participation. When done with the right mindset, it should be fun and rewarding to all involved.