Weeding out stress

Feed the soul: In chaotic times, gardening brings peace in midst of COVID-19

By Barbara Pierce

Being in a garden, surrounded by beautiful plants and doing simple, manual tasks such as weeding and watering can do wonders to calm the mind and lift the spirits during these uncertain times.

“Gardening brings peace to my soul,” said Dennis Osborne of Floyd, Oneida County Master Gardener Program volunteer. “I’m out here alone in my garden, in the warm sunlight, listening to the birds, maybe eating a ripe tomato I just picked, and gathering flowers for my wife.”

As the arrival of spring in Mohawk Valley coincides with government stay-at-home orders, due to COVID-19, the itch to get outside has turned back yard gardens into a peaceful haven and a stress reliever for many of us.

Gardeners who already know that working with soil is a way to connect with nature say it helps take away their worries, at least temporarily.

That is needed now more than ever.

“Working in my garden gives me a sense of perspective,” Osborne said. “It lets me know that we’ll get through this. COVID-19 will pass; life will go on. The Bible reminds us: ‘While the earth remains, seed time and harvest will not cease.’”

“Earthy things give me a good perspective; it keeps me down to earth, keeps me grounded on what’s really important. I know the ground will be there — I can depend on it and it’s not going away. It keeps me rooted,” he added.

Osborne and his wife live with extended family; there are nine persons locked down in their household.

Their 12 acres of land lends itself to gardening. “We have lots of fruit trees, we grow most of our own vegetables, and we have beautiful flowers,” he said.

Mary Anne Lorenz of Whitesboro is also a Master Gardener volunteer. “I’ve gardened all my life because it feeds my body, mind and soul,” she said.

“Gardening adds beauty to my life and inspires my creativity,” she said. “When I’m in my garden, the sun warms my back, and earthy smells surround me. It stretches, strengthens and tires me out in a satisfying way. Watching a seedling emerge from the ground always feels like I’m witnessing a little miracle.

“Being outside in my garden clears my head and soothes my soul.”

Patricia Salzer, workplace wellness support coordinator for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Utica and an integral part of the Mohawk Regional Dietetic Association, agrees.

“There’s something about growing and using my own herbs that’s satisfying to the soul and palate and a treat for the senses, she said. “Once planted, they grow quickly — sometimes it seems right in front of my eyes. In the morning, I do some tactile and aromatherapy as I touch and smell the herbs. There’s nothing like harvesting your own herbs and savoring their smell and taste firsthand.”

Taking on stress

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of gardening is its ability to help reduce stress.

“Gardening is a great stress reliever in these days of staying at home,” said Osborne. “Especially weeding.  Weeds don’t talk back. I take out my frustration on them; that’s better than taking it out on people.”

“Weeding is good stress relief,” agreed Holly Wise, Master Gardener volunteer program leader, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Oneida County.

“There are so many benefits to gardening,” she said. “You’re outside; you can hear the birds, see the squirrels scurrying around, see the children playing next door. You’re getting exercise by working the soil, shoveling, moving your arms, getting down on your knees. You can see changes in your garden every day.”

Wise grew up gardening and in 4-H, and went to college for horticulture. “Gardening has always been a big part of my life. I love to work in the soil,” she said.

The Oneida County Master Gardener Program trains volunteers, educates people through workshops, provides information to home gardeners, answers gardening questions, and assists with gardening projects in the community.

Its website is http://cceoneida.com/home-garden.

“If you’re interested in learning more about the program, reach out to me and we’ll talk,” Wise said.

These days, many more people are starting their own garden, growing vegetables in a garden or in a container. People want to be more self-sufficient. “If it’s a big project, work up to it,” she recommended. “Do a little at a time.”

Wise can be reached through email at hlw2@cornell.edu or 315-736-3394, extension 125.

There’s another big advantage to gardening for Osborne: “It’s something to do to keep me occupied in a positive sense. I feel useful, as I’m creating healthy food and beautiful flowers for my family and friends. It gives me a purpose.

“And it brings me satisfaction. I can say ‘I created this!’ It permits me to create. From dirt and seeds, God brings forth beautiful things, like fruit trees and flowers. A little thing like a pumpkin seed can produce such great results.”

Photo: Dennis Osborne of Floyd, an Oneida County Master Gardener Program volunteer, attends the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show in March before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.