“One who plants a garden plants happiness.”

Today brings a sense of déjà vu, I’m inside again due to more rain. We’ve only had a few days of fine weather that lasted long enough to be out gardening recently. Surprisingly, at the end of the day last time I was out in the garden, despite the aches and pains after heavy work, I felt revived and elated at day’s end.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. ”

Chinese Proverb

Apart from a sense of accomplishment and connection with nature, I wondered why a day in the garden improves one’s underlying mood so much? Is it the fresh air, the commune with nature and the sunshine or is it the exercise and sense of peace. Possibly a chance for mindfulness or just plain fun digging in the dirt that we all enjoy so much?

As we read in literary or other famous quotes the improved mood of gardeners is nothing new. Evidently, scientists have discovered our elevated moods are due to the soil. Yes, getting down and dirty in the garden and getting up close and personal with the microbes in the soil is what alters our mood.

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

Thomas Jefferson

Research by Dr Christopher Lowry and colleagues from Bristol University and University College London, published in ‘Neuroscience’ March 28th 2007, verifies that the harmless bacteria –Mycobacterium vaccae mirrors the effect on neurons in the brain that drugs like Prozac provide by boosting the immune system. The microbes affect the brain indirectly, causing the immune cells to release chemicals called cytokines that activate the nerves and relay signals from the body to the brain. The stimulated nerves cause the brain to release serotonin into the prefrontal cortex-the area of the brain that regulates mood and makes us relaxed, less anxious and happier.

“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health,” Lowry said. “They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

Dr Christopher Lowry
New-season snowdrops – always the first plants out in flower


So, I wasn’t wrong in feeling revived after my successful day gardening and it is nice to know that the happiness one feels after gardening as described by gardeners and farmers for centuries, has a scientific basis. If the garden is your happy place it is no fluke that it makes you feel good. In fact, gardening has also been used by researchers in Norway to help patients with severe depression. The patients experienced improved moods; even several months after the studies took place.

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives. ”

Gertrude Jekyll
Double Delight Roses

Unfortunately, the weeks of wet and cloudy weather has also caused a sense of procrastination. Rather than being out in the warmth of the winter sun, I’m instead just planning garden intentions. With a mass of overgrown perennials, rampant weeds and grass growing in the wrong place, plus many roses to prune, the wet weather is slowing progress There are tell-tale signs of new growth and the leaves are beginning to sprout, yet I’m apprehensive about a massive prune just yet until the last frost has gone.

“There’s something about taking a plow and breaking new ground. It gives you energy. ”

Ken Kessey

The advice of garden experts for our region is ‘prune after the last frost’, which I always think is odd given even the best of farmers cannot predict the weather. Nevertheless, contrary to advise, I’m starting just as soon as the sun comes out, to prune roses, cut back perennials and underplantings that are trying their best to choke the roses. The weather has also held up my Potager garden plans after several months of waiting for the garden surrounds, plinth and pots, all is now ready and waiting for the ground to dry out enough to begin.

Gardens and gardening are a never-ending enjoyable process and the main objective is to have fun whilst we create pleasing surroundings. The rain and wet conditions will soon be over, and it has been wonderful to have such lush conditions. Spring will be here shortly and promises to be a really fabulous season given the amount of water that has soaked in over recent months. What a simple way of improving mental health and our immune system than to muck about in the garden and all that serotonin freely available to make us happier, healthy and less stressed. What more could we want?

Content by Di Baker 2021

Title Quote by Alfred Austin

Title Image by Di Baker

Images by Unsplash

Reference “Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al., published online on March 28, 2007 in Neuroscience. http://www.sage.edu/newsevents/news/?story_id=240785 Mind & Brain/Depression and Happiness – Raw Data “Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz, Discover Magazine, July 2007 Issue. https://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/raw-data-is-dirt-the-new-prozac

Read more at Gardening Know How: Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/soil-fertilizers/antidepressant-microbes-soil.htm

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