Horticultural healing Gardening offers benefits to both mind an

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

A week ago Tuesday, I -- along with all of America -- watched in horror as airplanes plowed into the twin World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. For the next two days I couldn't tear myself away from the TV. I didn't want to miss a thing. I was also hoping against hope that rescue workers would find more survivors.

I have been trying to analyze my thoughts and emotions those first two days. The best word that I could come up with was numbness. I was in a daze. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. My energy level was so low, that when I would accomplish one or two small tasks, I was exhausted.

On Thursday and Friday I talked to many people who reacted the same way I did. They were numb, they were glued to the TV, and they were horrified. As our conversations continued, they said that they had to finally pull away from the TV and start doing something. Most of them went outside into their gardens or landscapes and weeded, pruned, mowed or hoed. This gave them time to reflect on all that had happened.

Horticultural therapy is a concept that has widespread acceptance. St. Francis Medical Center has its Healing Garden. Southeast Missouri Hospital has atriums filled with plants. Institutions for the aged and mentally and physically handicapped have long provided programs in gardening for their patients.

There are several benefits for those involved in gardening. First, it makes you slow down and stop and smell the roses. (Literally, if you grow roses.) After all, you can only hoe or weed so fast. When you're taking a break, the fragrance of flowers is a magnet to the nose.

To be a successful gardener, you must get back to nature. You become more aware of fluctuations in wind, rain, snow and temperature. In our world of concrete, asphalt, steel and cyberspace, we sometimes forget these elements of nature.

By caring for a plant with water and fertilizer, a gardener takes his mind off of himself and keeps it on the plants he is caring for. Self-pity can certainly drag you into the doldrums.

Gardening activities provide physical therapy. As I'm sure you are aware, the immune system is jump-started when we get off of our duff and start to move around.

Provides time to reflect

A lot of the activities in gardening are routine -- repetitions of the same process. While engaged in such activities, you have plenty of time to reflect upon the important things in life. A lot of gardeners work on their knees. What better position to be in when you are in prayer.

I often spend time in my natural garden, the woods in front of my house. Just sitting there and looking in awe at all of the small miracles that take place -- a turkey strutting, a deer munching on twigs, a squirrel doing battle with a hickory nut larger than he is, or a flower blossom in full array -- makes me keenly aware of my place in the universe.

If you don't have a lot a space, or if you live in an apartment, you can still enjoy the benefits of gardening. Buy a few houseplants and nurture them. You will get the same benefits as someone with a two-acre landscape.

If you are not sure how to get started, go to your local garden center. Ask the clerk to help you select plants, fertilizers, and soils for your particular garden. Don't overdo it at first. Just try a few things until you get the hang of gardening.

We are going through some tough times now. I also have a feeling that we will have a lot more ups and downs before our lives get back to normal. If you are feeling down or insecure, then think about taking up the hobby of gardening. It will provide you with all kinds of benefits, both physical and mental. Spiritually it will remind you that you can plant, fertilize and water, but it takes God to make things grow.

Send your gardening questions to Paul Schnare by e-mail at news@semissourian.com or by mail to P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699.

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