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Digging out of the Doldrums

Silver Hill Hospital

Part of the Get Through the Winter series

You might be asking why Silver Hill Hospital is writing a gardening post in the middle of winter, but mid-winter weather is precisely why we are writing. Smelling a flower or feeling the dirt between your fingers may be just what you need to dig out of the winter doldrums.

Evidence about the benefits of gardening used to be purely anecdotal, but no more. Research conducted in just the past three decades supports the conclusion that humans benefit from interactions with plants: 

  • In 1984, Science Magazine published a landmark study by Roger S. Ulrich in which patients who had nothing more than a view of trees after surgery had fewer complaints, needed less pain medication and were discharged earlier.
  • In 2008, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale demonstrated that indoor horticulture activities increased psychological well being among seniors. 
  • Also in 2008, researchers at Kansas State University reported that hospitalized patients whose rooms had flowers or plants had lower blood pressure, heart rate, pain, anxiety and fatigue than the control group.

The fundamental, mutually beneficial relationship between plants and animals is simple: We give off the carbon dioxide plants need to live and they give us back oxygen. When we breathe out, a plant lives. When they breathe out, we live.

But plants also have abundant healing properties and nourish us in many ways. Recognizing their many benefits, Silver Hill has developed a horticultural therapy program where patients engage in gardening-related activities that can help their own individual healing. 

Gardening can be a treatment that does not interfere with other medications

Every Thursday, Silver Hill Hospital volunteers work with patients to make flower arrangements for tables in the patient dining room. Together, we create living sculptures from which patients derive two benefits:  The first is pleasure of making the arrangements—selecting the flowers, trimming and then placing them in a vase, being sure it is filled with water—and the second comes from seeing them again in the dining room at meals. You could even add a third in that other patients get the benefit of seeing the flowers as well. 

On many days, you will see patients walking through the grounds, feeling the sun, smelling the flowers. These are good, natural, non-medicinal distractions for any kind of pain or depression. Nature is calming. It is awe inspiring and uplifting. When a patient has shaking hands, the garden does not care. It is still quite possible to fill a vase with flowers or dig a hole to put a plant in the ground. And the sense of accomplishment can lead to improved self-esteem.

Additionally, our world can get very small when we are sick. Being reminded that there is life around us, that we are part of a greater eco-system, can help put our illness into perspective. The seedling of today will be the flower of tomorrow. By it’s nature, gardening gives us something to look forward to and is optimistic.

Drowsiness is not an uncommon side effect of many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Instead of caffeine, use some peppermint in any of its forms – gum, candy, even tea to stave off afternoon fatigue. Ordinary teas fend off fatigue because of their caffeine content. Peppermint is an herbal tea that you will find also works. Citrus plants invigorate. Lavender and lemon balm are soothing. Did you know that activating your olfactory sense is a surefire way to improve your mood? Best of all, aromatherapy will not interact with your medications.

A garden can be part of your life no matter where you live

Gardening is a wonderful, low cost hobby no matter where you live. It does not require a large plot of land and need not be back breaking work. A Manhattan high-rise? No matter. Create a dish or cactus rock garden. Condo with a small patio? Not to worry. Container gardens are very popular and easy to maintain. 

Gardening is easy, simple, fun. Three words we don’t hear often enough in our lives. Gardening reduces stress and encourages creativity. It is easy to plant things that smell nice, look beautiful and even taste good. Gardening encourages nurturing, which brings out the best in people. Gardening is all about nature, and nature is life affirming, appealing to all of our senses – sight, touch, smell, taste and sound. Gardening is just a great hobby, any time of year!

So place some fresh flowers in your kitchen. Thanks to grocery stores, they are abundant and inexpensive. They say you care enough about your home to beautify it. Choose yellow and orange, and bring a bit of “floral sunshine” into your life!  Plant and flower power—a thoroughly modern treatment for brightening those flagging winter spirits.