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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Earthy delights offer food for the soul

Gardening offers an easy, practical opportunity to practise mindfulness.

As temperatures slowly edge up toward comfort levels, and glimpses of sunlight gradually replace the seemingly endless gloom of grey days, gardeners can anticipate an uptick in their serotonin levels.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, produced in the intestine. Critical for the function of the nervous system, serotonin is known as a stress-busting, mood-boosting, “happy chemical.”

What has serotonin to do with gardening? A whole lot.

Most of us are acutely aware that becoming occupied in our gardens helps to lift our spirits. When worries weigh us down and life seems difficult, the garden offers repose and solace. It’s a space where cares begin to melt into the soil.

It’s not our imaginations. Solid research has helped to establish the reality of a strong link between gardening and general contentment.

Exercise releases tryptophan, an amino acid the brain uses to make serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical that is a natural stress reducer.

Gardening offers an easy, practical opportunity to practise mindfulness in focusing on a single task at a time. Meditation and mindfulness are considered helpful in raising contentment levels. And many of us are often on our knees gardening anyway.

Fresh air, and fresh food from a garden, both contribute to general well-being. Exposure to sunlight helps to boost serotonin levels.

An article in The Atlantic titled “How to Get High on Soil” speaks of research following the discovery of certain soil microorganisms found in soils and compost heaps that trigger the release of serotonin.

Some gardeners instinctively sense this. My father, who wrote this column before me, often used to say there was “good medicine” in soil.

I’ve always practised gloveless transplanting because I love the feel and smell of the soft, damp earth as I snuggle small transplants into pockets of soil, “puddle” them in with a transplanting solution, and then firm the soil gently around and over their roots. Turns out that earthy contact is actually of real benefit.

So amid daily headlines blaring news of war and misery and warnings of drought, temperature extremes and wildfires, be glad of having access to a garden, its good earth, and the opportunity it offers to stretch our minds and broaden our horticultural horizons in trying out new plants and new planting methods.

May we value the potential our gardens have for boosting our physical and emotional heath.

The frugal gardener. Finances are a challenge in many families. Growing some of our own food helps. Here are a few thoughts on gardening frugally.

* Seeds. Growing from seed is not the major money saver it used to be, with price hikes in recent years. Sharing packets of seeds with other gardeners, and price checking, still can save money.

* Transplants. Buy small, compact ones. They are cheaper and will establish more easily than large ones.

* Share. Swap seeds and plant divisions with neighbours and friends.

* Free stuff. Watch for “discards” like used hanging baskets and other containers left on boulevards for free pickup. Make your own seeding containers from emptied juice and milk cartons. Gather leaves for mulching from neighbours wanting them taken away.

* Garage sales. People moving from a residence often hold sales of garden equipment, pots and so on at low prices.

GARDEN EVENTS

View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will met on Wednesday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance off Lyall St. Bonita Elliott will present “How to Grow a Vegetable Garden.” She will include practical tips on growing sustainably with biodiversity and eco-friendly practices in mind. Everyone is welcome. Non-member drop-in fee $5. viewroyalgardenclub.ca.

Walk & Talk. Russell Nursery, 1370 Wain Rd. in North Saanich, is offering a free, drop-in, 20-minute Walk & Talk around the nursery outdoors, on the theme of Choosing a Flowering Cherry or Plum. Murray will guide participants through available choices in these trees. View the different varieties to find the best one for a space in your garden. Saturday, March 30. Meet under the willow tree at 10 a.m.

Shade gardens. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is presenting a workshop on Landscaping for Shade Gardens on Sunday, March 31, 1 to 2 p.m. Nat, the nursery’s landscape horticulturist, will offer tips for filling a shady are with year-round interest. Cost is $10 plus GST. Space is limited. Register in advance at the nursery or by calling 250-748-2023.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com