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The Mindful Gardener

By: Sandra Nelson

woman with magazine

I was leafing through a magazine Sunday afternoon when I ran across an article about Mindful Gardening. My immediate reaction was a snarky comment about mindful being the latest empty pop culture buzz word.  My daughter immediately took issue with my remark, accusing me of not knowing what the word really meant. Having lived through the 60s, I assured her that I did indeed know the meaning – had in fact known it for 20 years before she was even born. But just to be on the safe side, I snuck a peak at today’s meaning and, of course, learned a few things.

mindfulness sign Mindfulness, I learned, is simply paying attention. It is being fully present in the   moment, not constantly planning for tomorrow or worrying about yesterday, but   experiencing the now. It is being intentionally focused on seeing, hearing,   touching and sometimes even tasting the world in which we find ourselves. 

   Although I understood their interpretations of mindfulness, it was the Mayo Clinic’s definition of mindfulness that made me see the authentic connection between gardening and mindfulness. According to the Mayo Clinic, the term “mindfulness” refers to “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax thegardening body and mind and help reduce stress.” Looking at the last half of the last sentence is what helped me associate gardening with meditation.  To me, gardening is the best way I know to relax my body, relax my mind and reduce my stress level. Perhaps linking meditation and gardening together does make sense.

We’ve known for centuries that gardening is a healthy activity for both mind and body. 2000 years ago, Persians planted gardens to “calm the senses..” The Victorian Era saw farms included on the grounds of large mental health institutions so that patients could benefit from working in the fields. Others had gardens for a leisurely strolling . Victorian gardenIn the 1950s greenhouses began cropping up in mental health centers and by the 70s horticulture therapy was a recognized program at Midwestern universities. Researchers today know that only 30 minutes a day in nature significantly reduces levels of both cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone and blood pressure. Gardening tasks such as digging, raking  or using a wheelbarrow burn calories, build muscle and strengthen bone density.

digghing But questions about mindful gardening remain:  Is there really a difference between   simply gardening and mindful gardening? Are there benefits to being a mindful   gardener? If there are, how do we make the jump from being a gardener to becoming   a mindful gardener? Searching the internet for answers resulted in a myriad of articles (I found 9 articles/blogs, 14 books for sale, 2 videos and a gardening mindfulness kit on my first try.) that not only explained what mindfulness is, but exactly how to cultivate it in the garden. 

As I read through the diverse writings, a common theme jumped out at me. “The beauty of Mindful Gardening. is that the focus is not on maximizing a harvest but rather on intentionally practicing slowing down and coming into the present moment.” (MIND & SOIL). Or, to paraphrase another article from House Beautiful, the first step in becoming a mindful gardener is to stop worrying about the end product and just enjoy the journey. 



Now that got me thinking. How many times do we, as gardeners, become frustrated and overwhelmed because the garden isn’t done? It isn’t perfect. Every day there are more weeds or dead plants or bugs eating the leaves. There are groundhogs, deer, rabbits and squirrels decimating the entire garden. It’s raining too much, or not enough. The colors clash. The gladiolas are falling over. groundhog

Rather than succumbing to these horticultural woes, the mindful gardener pauses long enough to take a step back from the stressors. Instead of becoming frustrated, angry or starting the self-blame routine – if only I had put up the fencing…,  they recognize the frustrations as being both real –Yes, the groundhogs did eat the petunias. and transitory –Yes, they are sheared now, but the petunias will bloom even better after this pruning. Crisis averted, the mindful gardener lets go of the negative and refocuses his full attention on the original task at hand, knowing that nature has simply done what is natural.


As I thought about the emphasis of staying in the present, it occurred to me that  Mindful Gardeners are, for want of a better term, attentive gardeners. These are  gardeners who not just passively look, but actively see what is   happening in the landscape. aphidsThey notice change as it begins to   happen rather than later, after it has taken hold. Are aphids beginning   to invade the garden? Is that mildew appearing on the phlox? Is that   plant drowning in that space? Being in the moment rather than only   half present, allows them to hone in on the small details that are   often  easy to miss at first and hard to fix later. 

Each of the articles and books I read had their own philosophies on how to become a Mindful Gardener. Some suggested focusing on each movement, as a way to connect the body and mind to the natural world.  Others advocated sensory awareness,soil in hand deliberately experiencing the feel of sun-warmed soil as it drains through your fingers. One encouraged closing your eyes to enjoy the subtle flavors of a   freshly picked cherry tomato.eating cherry tomato  All however, insisted that the first, and   most important, step in becoming mindful in the garden is to remove all   of the day to day distractions. 


Turn off the cell phone. 

Leave the worries at the doorstep. 

 Give yourself the time and space to calm your spirit and relish your time in nature.


cell phone

As much as it pains me to admit it, my daughter was right again; I shouldn’t have automatically dismissed something I didn’t understand. The choice to be a mindful gardener can bring an even greater sense of peace and harmony to what is already a mentally and physically beneficial activity. 

Now, I’m wondering…does it work with doing the laundry too?