March 12, 2024


From soil to soul

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

I have diabetes, a stressful service job, and a small upper-level apartment with two balcony patios. My therapist gave me a list of hobby options. Gardening interests me, but can it really help me?

Gardening is a wonderful, wholesome activity that can reduce stress; improve your strength, flexibility, and balance; help you attain and maintain an appropriate weight; lower your blood pressure; and give you a mental and spiritual boost. Hobby gardeners often find that connecting with nature promotes a therapeutically calm space in their otherwise busy lives.

Some hobby gardeners in Singapore coped with COVID-related life stressors better than others with different pastimes.* Individuals who engage in gardening are also more likely to consume a variety of vegetables and fruits, contributing to a more nutritious diet. Gardening involves regular physical activity and sun exposure, which, together with gardening’s calming effect, facilitate better sleep. In turn, the combination of good sleep, physical movement, stress reduction, and improved diet contribute to better blood glucose control and overall physical health.

Planting, watering, and pruning contribute to regular physical activity and improved cardiovascular health, but gardening also encourages caring concern and distraction from your “regular” stress producers, thus enhancing your mental well-being (especially if you can disconnect from screens while gardening). Experiencing the smell of plants may facilitate stress reduction and support mental recovery in real-life contexts. The process of growing plants teaches patience and the appreciation of the natural cycles of life, contributing to spiritual well-being. Even with the inevitable challenges of raising plants, as a result of factors within and beyond your control, successfully growing and caring for them can give you a sense of accomplishment. Contemplate the wonderful works of the Creator, the miracle of life through plants, and the little creatures that call the garden their home. Observing the bugs in the garden can give you spiritual insights (see Prov. 6:6-11).

Indoor gardening can be a satisfying adventure. You may start with a small herb garden on your windowsill. Such herbs as basil, mint, and rosemary are easy to grow in small spaces and useful in cooking when fresh or dried. Try growing your own nutrient-dense microgreens or sprouts on your countertop or grow miniature fruit-bearing and air-purifying plants on wall-mounted shelves or hanging containers. 

Gardening in containers on your balcony patios allows for exposure to fresh air, sunlight, and the broader natural environment. You can enjoy the benefits of gardening without requiring a large outdoor space. The outdoor exposure can enhance mood, boost vitamin D levels, and provide additional healthful sensory stimuli.

We encourage you to “step out” and give gardening a try. As you cultivate a garden you will also be cultivating habits that reduce chronic disease risk and promote long-term well-being. For you and all of us, nurturing living things connects us to the process of creation, and we have opportunities for awe as we collaborate with the Creator.

* Angelia Sia, Puay Yok Tan, John Chee Meng Wong, Sophianne Araib, Wee Foong Ang, Kenneth Boon Hwee Er, “The Impact of Gardening on Mental Resilience in Times of Stress: A Case Study During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Singapore,” Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, Dec. 18, 2021.