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The Healing Power of Gardening: Using the Garden for Recovery

The garden saved me in so many ways, and I want it to do the same for you. The action of gardening and getting outside has many healing and health benefits and is one of the best ways to get your body moving again. Let’s talk about the power of gardening and how to get started while your body is still recovering.

healing power of gardening

Many people who stumble upon Garden Therapy come here while searching for help in their own recovery journey. For me, the garden is a powerful place to heal, both in what you grow and the action itself.

Gardening came to me at a crucial time, offering me an outlet to slowly heal my body and find a new passion in life. Gardening is amazing for mental health and can also be a gentle way to get the body moving.

Every message I get about someone who finds hope in my own story and shares their own journey means the world to me. I never would have expected that Garden Therapy would reach so many people when I started it.

Someone recently asked me for tips on how to help increase their time and physical stamina in the garden while recovering from brain surgery, and I thought it was time I dedicate a whole post on tips for utilizing the healing power of gardening.

Here’s what I’ll be talking about today:

butterfly pathway garden in the community
The key is to garden in a way that works for you and you alone.

My Recovery Story

I didn’t grow up as a gardener. Instead, it found me when I needed it the most. Many years ago, I woke up with a headache. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of my chronic disability.

I spent that first year almost entirely in bed, trying to sleep off my pain and finding myself with no energy whatsoever.

After a year and a half, I was able to do small tasks with my body, like walking around the house or brushing my hair.

By the third year, I ventured outside. My garden was little more than a neglected lawn, but I decided I would build a garden and my health at the same time.

It started off with just 5 minutes a week, then 5 minutes a day, then 10 minutes a day. It was gradual, very slow, but very rewarding.

Here I am, almost two decades later, and I’m a Master Gardener, permaculturalist, and an award-winning author of 12 books and counting.

And it all started with those 5 minutes a day during recovery.  

healing power of gardening
I still struggle with pain daily but I have learned how and when to push my body.

Finding That Balance

The first thing I’ll say about using the garden to recover is that you need to find a balance between pushing yourself in moderate ways without overdoing it, all while listening to your body.

As someone who is a type A personality and doesn’t like to stop once I’m hustling, I had to really come to terms with listening to my body. It was important that during my healing, I continued to listen to my body’s signals while also not being sedentary.

You have to be so careful not to slip into that toxic positivity. Continuing to push yourself more than your body is ready for can develop into a detachment from the signals of our bodies.

Accept what you can do, and listen to those messages your body puts out.

lush eco lawn mix
Find ways to make your garden low maintenance, like switching from a turf lawn to an alternative lawn.

Choose Your Hard

In my eyes, those physical and pain symptoms telling you to slow down is your body healing. German homeopathy really embodies this idea that hurting is part of the healing process. When you don’t feel the pain, the healing process hasn’t even begun yet.

Think of pain like an alarm system. Once you stub your toe and it hurts, you try not to do it again. When you push, it’s going to hurt, but the pain will also encourage you not to push too hard.

For me, it was all about choosing my hard. Yes, moving at first was very difficult, but I also found being sedentary especially hard on my body and my mental health. So I chose my hard and pushed my body to its current capabilities and watched it grow.

Just recently, I hurt my back. For almost two weeks, I didn’t do much movement, not even walking Kiddo to school. Every day for the past 11 years, even when I was pregnant, Kiddo and I would go on our daily walk. It’s really part of how we bond and a big reason why he’s so outdoorsy.

It was really hard for me to be in a place where I couldn’t even walk with Kiddo. After two weeks, I finally went on a walk with him and actually felt better because I got that movement. But the next day, I only got a block and a half before I had to turn around. And that’s okay.

I was kind to myself and listened to my body. It needed recovery time and rest.

Tips for Gardening for Recovery

My biggest tip is listening to your body and finding that balance, but here are some other ways I recommend using the garden as a form of recovery.

  1. Set a goal that’s easy to achieve. For me, it was those first five minutes a day. Be reasonable, and just do something little to get started.
  2. Get outside even when you can’t garden. If you’re unable to get much movement in, that’s okay. Simply sitting outside can give you immense benefits.
  3. Enjoy garden therapy inside. There are more ways than physically gardening to get some much-needed garden therapy. From indoor herb gardens to garden-inspired crafts, you can enjoy the benefits of nature even inside.
  4. Utilize permaculture zones. Keep things that you want to access regularly, such as houseplants or vegetables, close to the home (follow these tips).
  5. Relax after gardening. For me, that’s sitting in the bath with Epsom salts to immediately relax my muscles after working.
  6. Try reading. If you aren’t able to get out that day, try reading up on gardening practices, designs, and ideas instead. I really got my start by reading vegetable gardening books from the library.
  7. Stretch before you begin gardening. From yoga to simple sitting stretches, try to move your body ahead of time to increase blood flow to your muscles.
  8. Garden in a way that works for you. Ignore the trends and what everyone else wants your yard to look like. For instance, I ditched having a front lawn that needed to be mowed and watered since that requires lots of physical work and maintenance. Now, I have a beautiful wildflower front lawn that requires almost no effort on my end.  
  9. Utilize ergonomic tools to relieve strain on your joints and muscles (I’ve listed a bunch in this article).
  10. Take it day by day. Just because you did fifteen minutes in the garden yesterday doesn’t mean you can replicate that today. Always listen to your body and adjust as needed.
using the garden for recovery
Make a place in your garden meant just for relaxation and enjoyment.

Those are just a few of my tips for using the garden to heal. If you have more you’d like to share with others, please leave them in the comments below. I hope you find the power of gardening in your own life!

More Ways to Discover the Healing Power of Gardening

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