Gardens for mental health

2014-04-01T10:30:00Z 2014-04-02T13:50:36Z Gardens for mental healthJane Ammeson Times Correspondent
April 01, 2014 10:30 am  • 

Gardens not only delight with their beauty, they also can positively impact families with children in many other ways as well.

“Gardening is a great way to get the whole family involved. Children feel a sense of accomplishment and learn so much when they help plant a food or flower garden,” said Maddie Grimm, Director of Education at Taltree Arboretum & Gardens. “Our Adventure Garden lets children explore the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – in a safe and fun environment.”

Taltree's Adventure Garden, which is designed for children, shows them where their food comes from and allows them to explore raised bed gardening and Taltree's ‘go green’ lifestyle initiatives such as green roofs, rain barrels and insect composting. The garden is home to Bantam chickens, Nigerian dwarf goats and American guinea hogs. The Adventure Garden, funded in part by ArcelorMittal USA, allows kids to explore the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell – in activity areas like the gourd arbor, the edible flower garden, prairie ABC trail and hidden music garden.

Mignon Kennedy retains vivid memories of gardening while growing up at the family home on Ridge Road.

"It's so rewarding," said Kennedy, director of Gabriel's Horn, a short term homeless shelter for women in Valparaiso. "You see the garden from the beginning, watch it grow and then canning and finally eating," she said. "We were just part of the whole process."

Kennedy also remembers the satisfying and exciting feeling when, after she and her mother had packed canning jars with produce, sealed them and immersed them in a water bath or pressure cooker, of hearing the lids pop meaning the seal had taken and the food was preserved.

"I remember asking what if they don't pop and my mother reassuring me that we'd just use them right away," she said. "It really connected my mom and I."

Now Kennedy takes her two children to the family home where her father Paul deBie still lives and still gardens to help pick. Her youngest son, 9-year-old Owen, also helped out somewhat in the kitchen when Kennedy put up pickles.

"All the family loved them," she said about their accomplishment.

For Dr. Larry Brewerton, PhD, a psychology professor at Indiana University Northwest who also has a consulting practice, he believes we have a connection with the earth and that this connectivity can have a positive impact upon children.

"When they plant seeds and see them grow into flowers and vegetables it does what we've been telling them it would and they can see that," he said. "It also teaches them when you put your mind to something, you can make it happen."

Another added plus said Brewerton is that when parents and their children work together, there's the team accomplishment that we're all working together.

"Besides that, it's often easier for kids when they're working in a garden with their parents to talk about issues that might not ordinarily bring up," he said.

James Pavelka, member of The Garden Club of Indiana and the Hobart Garden Club, said gardening offers children the opportunity for enjoyable and creative activity, encourages participation to the fullest extent possible and provides recognition of accomplishment.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, in the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. Now, the average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day while sitting more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. This move from the outdoors to inside has a major impact on wellness. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled the last 20 years. Beyond that, the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world. Pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen dramatically too.

All in all it adds up to overweight, out-of-shape children who are stressed out and depressed. The reason could be their missing connection to the natural world, something that's essential to health and development.

What to do?

Studies show that kids' stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces and that nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.

In other words, it's time to turn off the TV, iPads and whatever electronic gadget is going and go outside and get digging.

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