This article by Courtney Tchida originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Northern Gardener.
The benefits of gardening are many, including to our physical and mental health. We were frequently reminded of the relaxation and stress-relief gardening provides this year as we planted, weeded, watered and harvested through a pandemic. Time spent in the garden—digging in the dirt, watching plants burst into bloom and hearing pollinators buzz from flower to flower—can be soothing during challenging times. Many of this year’s Garden-in-a-Box participants focused on embracing their garden kits as a source of horticultural therapy and healing. Here are some examples:
At Avivo, a Minnesota-based organization guiding thousands toward recovery, Garden-in-a-Box kits supplemented existing treatment programs that help individuals and their families find health, social and economic wellness. The Avivo stafff started with six boxes this year and plan to expand the garden next year so that even more clients can participate. Planting and caring for annual flowers and vegetables gave program participants opportunities to work outside with their hands and facilitated greater healing.
St. Joseph’s Home for Children
The St. Joseph’s Home for Children Day Treatment Program grew 10 Garden-in-a-Box kits at Wilder School in Minneapolis this year. Elementary students needing additional support benefit from the home, where children work together on projects, such as gardening, and practice empathy, compassion and caring. The youngest students used snapdragons as finger puppets to talk about how their week was going. Older kids harvested ingredients to eat, adding edible flowers to homemade ice cream, making fresh salsa and bringing extra vegetables home to share with their families.
Merritt House and the Range Mental Health Center offers treatment programs for clients with mental health and substance abuse issues. Participating in Garden-in-a-Box provided a valuable stress relief outlet for staff and clients, many of whom spent time in the garden and enjoyed caring for the plants. These facilities also offer health and nutrition classes and made pickles using cucumbers from the garden boxes.
New Leaf Healing Center
A provider of short-term crisis intervention programs for individuals facing mental health challenges, New Leaf Healing Center helps people get back on their feet as they transition back to their own homes. Participating in Garden-in-a-Box this year gave them the chance to grow fresh vegetables that were used daily in the kitchens and helped partipants be active and find peace in the garden.
We love watching our GIAB partners embrace the benefits of growing together! Gardening really can enhance quality of life, reduce stress, create community and connection and empower us to grow our own food and prepare healthy meals. It is, indeed, horticultural therapy.