The POWER of Gardening

A Regrowing Pastime
By Jen Jacobson
Photography by Fagan Studios

After months of social distancing or teleworking, you may feel isolated and bored at home.  Or perhaps you’re stressed over close contact at the grocery store or worrying that the aisles will be picked over again in the coming months. Or maybe you just need some beauty in your life to combat all the yuck that 2020 has dealt so far.

One strategy to help with all of these concerns is gardening. Whether you’re envisioning a few bursts of colorful flowers to brighten your home or a bounty of produce to nourish your family, there are opportunities available for every person, space and level of effort. There’s a power to gardening and the wealth of benefits that it provides.

SECURITY AND HEALTH
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant focus onto the U.S. food supply and its shortcomings, including the possibility of food shortages. Rather than settling for what the grocery store has available at the moment, growing your own produce ensures that you have access to the freshest ingredients. Having food available at home is also invaluable for those who are unable or unwilling to venture into public spaces because of personal or family illness or virus vulnerability.

In addition to providing peace of mind, gardening is healthy for you in a number of ways. Going from garden to table allows for foods that are at their nutritional peak. And the time spent working soil and pulling weeds provides physical activity, a boost for dexterity and a dose of essential sunlight—hello, vitamin D.

The mental health benefits of gardening are numerous. Time spent in green space is linked to less depression, anxiety and stress—and boy, can we all do with less of that these days! In addition, being around or caring for plants has been shown to increase productivity and lower blood pressure. And for some, especially those struggling with isolation or feeling a lack of control, growing something with your own hands can provide a sense of purpose. Whether while digging their hands in the dirt or enjoying the sights and scents of flowers in full bloom, a common theme for seasoned gardeners is that time in their garden brings peace. 

GETTING STARTED
A number of local resources are available to help with your gardening journey. The Rochester Public Library’s Seed Library offers free, open-pollinated seeds and resources for planting, growing, harvesting and seed saving. Seeds can be checked out online on the RPL website and obtained with curbside pickup. Local garden centers such as Sargent’s Gardens, Jim Whiting Nursery and Garden Center and Family Tree Landscaping Nursery are not only a source for seedlings and supplies, but also a great resource for planning and developing your garden for maximum impact.

Whether you’re a gardening newbie or looking to advance your existing knowledge, the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum hosts a number of gardening and horticulture classes and workshops, some held in person and others online. Currently, a free weekly webinar on Minnesota plants runs each Thursday evening through mid-September. Full class offerings can be found at arboretum.umn.edu/gardening.aspx. 

NO MATTER THE SPACE
Fortunately, you don’t need an acreage to grow an impactful garden. Techniques such as square foot gardening and vertical gardening (using a trellis) can be applied to produce an ample amount of produce in small plots. In addition to traditional garden plots, many people have turned to raised garden beds, which can allow for less weed growth and better water management. Raised beds are also less likely to be trampled by kids or pets—not to mention sparing your back and knees from so much bending.

Container gardens have become increasingly popular, as well. If your yard is small or lacking the right light or soil, or if all you have for outdoor space is a small patio or balcony, a few strategically placed herb or veggie pots are always a possibility for going green, even if just a little.

GROWING A COMMUNITY
While a home garden is often a solitary venture, gardening can foster a community spirit. The Rochester Parks and Recreation Department and the History Center of Olmsted County offer rental of community garden plots. In addition, you can check with your neighborhood association to see if additional garden plot options are available right in your neighborhood.

Another burgeoning option is The Village Community Garden and Learning Center, which was launched in 2019, thanks to efforts from the University of Minnesota–Rochester, the Diversity Council and a number of other program partners. The Village’s purpose is to bring together people of all cultures, which includes managing shared garden spaces in northwest Rochester for a number of local ethnic communities. But it’s more than just a garden. Says the initiative’s Facebook page, “In addition to sharing the land and the workload, we will be sharing everything there is to know about food: how to grow, prepare, season, cook, freeze, preserve and commune through food.”

No green thumb, no problem

A garden isn’t for everyone. But don’t let that limit your ability to enjoy quality produce year-round.

One great option for local produce is the Rochester Farmers Market at Graham Park, where you’ll find an abundance of colorful fruits, veggies and flowers, in addition to other products and home-baked goods. Saturday markets run throughout the year from 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Wednesday markets continue through September from 2 to 6 p.m. To address COVID-19 concerns, new this year is an online ordering and drive-thru pickup option, which can be found at rochfarmmkt.org/shop. 

Or have you considered a CSA? With Community Supported Agriculture, you pair with a local farm to purchase regular shares of its harvest that are delivered or picked up at a designated location. This may mean a weekly box of in-season fruits and veggies, as well as options such as farm-fresh eggs, cheeses, meats and breads. There’s nothing like opening that box and discovering a trove of ingredients to work into a weekly meal plan.

A searchable directory of CSA, farmers market and pick-your-own opportunities can be found at minnesotagrown.com.