February 3, 2011

What Can Gardening Do for You?

by Elvin McDonald, Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center Executive Director

My office at the Botanical Center is in the North Wing, so my usual path from the parking lot is through the potting shed, past the Show House, into the tropical splendor of the Dome and finally to my desk.

One morning last October, I couldn’t help noticing an air of happiness surrounding the gardeners and volunteers as they worked. As I entered the Dome, past the orchid wall and rounded the corner, there was Charlie Brown in his pumpkin patch, a part of our Story Time in the Gardens theme. I like to think he waved at me. At this point several little kids entered the scene and squeals of happiness ensued. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Over a hundred years ago, a British prison warden observed that the men assigned gardening tasks, primarily growing vegetables, were happier, better adjusted than the others and, moreover, much less subject to recidivism–in other words, falling back into criminal behavior.

As recently as last year, the New York Times reported that horticultural therapy is proving to be one of the most effectual treatments in rehabilitating soldiers suffering physical and emotional traumas.

Gardens and gardening are in fact life enhancers for all of us. On the 2nd anniversary of September 11th I was touched by a young widow who said she was once again able to garden, to allow herself the happiness she felt when gardening. On the 10th anniversary of the Greensburg, KS, tornado a much older widow who lost everything—husband and home—recalled finding in the storm’s aftermath a lone cockscomb that had survived. She said, “It made me think I could too—and I have.”

All of us who work at the Botanical Center strive to make it a place where happiness grows. Visit us often this New Year—and be happy.

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