Let's face it. Most of us garden because we love to watch things grow and like to think we have a hand in the process. Naturally, it makes us feel good to see the fruit of our labor and to get out in the fresh air and sunshine.
What you may not know is that gardening provides a host of health benefits you might not have thought about before. Consider these proven benefits to gardening.
We all experience stress in our daily lives and gardening is one way to relieve it. According to CNN Health, a study completed in the Netherlands actually measured the stress hormone cortisol in two groups of subjects instructed to either read or garden for 30 minutes. Gardening reduced cortisol levels more than relaxing with a good book.
High cortisol levels caused by stress are known to contribute to increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and insulin resistance, suppress the immune system and cause fatty deposits in the face, neck and abdomen. Lowering your cortisol levels will improve your health and may even help you lose few pounds.
Gardening is a good way to relieve stress and reduce cortisol levels.
Improves Mental Health
Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health, specifically by alleviating depression and reducing anxiety. While there may be a number of reasons why gardening might elevate mood and relieve symptoms of depression, such as exposure to new experiences and working out in the fresh air and sunshine, there may be another reason.
Soil contains a harmless bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae , that stimulates the release and metabolism of serotonin in the brain. This stimulates the area of the brain that controls mood and cognitive functioning. Digging in the soil and contacting soil that contains Mycobacterium vaccae is like getting a mini-boost of serotonin-boosting antidepressants.
As an added bonus, food grown and eaten straight from the garden contains this beneficial bacteria, too. Perhaps this explains why so many gardeners enjoy a tasty snack of fresh veggies while working in the garden.
Studies on people in the 60's and 70's suggest that those who garden are less likely to suffer from dementia by an amazing 36 to 47 percent. (CNN Health) These results are likely due to a combination of effects, such as exercise, experiencing new things and perhaps getting a good dose of beneficial bacteria.
Nearly everyone knows that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is good for you. When you grow them yourself you also control whether they are exposed to pesticides or other chemicals. But that's not the only benefit to eating fresh fruits and veggies from the garden.
If you are into the New Age practice of Earthing, you will be happy to learn that gardening is a natural form of earthing. Earthing refers to the practice of going barefoot or otherwise making contact with the earth without artificial barriers (like the rubber soles on your shoes) between you and the earth..
Earthing is thought to draw negative energy from the earth to re-balance the body by evening out positive charges in the body and returning your body to its natural state.
According to supporters of Earthing, our bodies are filled with positive ions, mainly from free radicals caused by food additives or other environmental sources. These positive ions can lead to inflammation, pain and disease. The earth, on the other hand, is a natural source of negative ions. If your body (with a positive charge) contacts the earth (with its negative charge) energy from the earth is drawn into the body to neutralize your body's energy. Earthing is thought to bring a host of health benefits from feeling better and experiencing more joy and happiness to eliminating pain and inflammation and other health ailments..
If you find yourself feeling a bit guilty because you don't mow your lawn as often as you should, it's time to relax your standards. Mowing your lawn less frequently is actually good for your garden and the environment.
Recent research concludes that lawns that are mowed every two weeks support 30 percent more bees than lawns mowed every week, says the American Association of Science. And that is good news for both your garden and the environment at large.
Bees are major pollinators of both wild plants and plants raised for food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 90 percent of wild plants and 30 percent of crops depend on cross pollination via insects.
Letting your lawn grow for an extra week during the summer provides more flowers for bees and provides a sustainable habitat for them. Of course, that means you may need to tolerate dandelions and other weeds that may have your neighbors complaining. But, you can always tell them you are doing your part to help the environment and to save the bees.
Nearly everyone knows that bees are important to gardens, but not everyone knows there are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide. While most of us recognize a honeybee and a bumblebee, we aren't necessarily skilled at recognizing other bees. I thought this bee was a honeybee until I took a photo from the rear.
As it turns out, this bee is probably a cellophane or polyester bee (Colletes spp). It may sound like we are talking about Walmart's patent for a robot drone bee, but I assure you, cellophane or polyester bees are living bees and probably inhabit your backyard.
What is a Cellophane or Polyester Bee?
Cellophane and polyester bees are about the same size and shape as a honeybee and it is easy to mistake them, especially when you are looking at the head. However, they have dramatic black and yellow or black white stripes on the abdomen with less hair than the honeybee.
They get their name from the habit of coating their nest and their brood cells with a water-proof substance similar to cellophane or polyester. This protects the nest from the ravages of water and makes it possible to nest in areas that may flood.
Cellophane bees build their nests underground, typically in sandy areas with sparse vegetation. While cellophane bees tend to be solitary and nest individually, theirs nest are often part of a large colony.
Cellophane bees are beneficial to gardens and wildflowers as they are effective pollinators. They are one of the first bees to arrive in the spring and can bee seen here on wild Lupines but are also known to pollinate apples and other native plants or trees.
According to LookSeek.com, cellophane bees are harmless to humans because their stinger does not penetrate human skin.
"Roses are red,
If you grew up with this rhyme, you may have wondered why the violets you see are actually purple not blue. The truth is some violets are named purple violets while others are named blue violets. Their petal color ranges from blue to shades of purple, but you can't always tell them apart by their name.
In other words, some blue violets are actually purple, while some purple violets can be blue. To confuse the matter even more, GoBontany says that both purple and blue violets can also be white.
According to the Wild Seed Project there are 18 species of violets in Maine with many hybrids. This makes it difficult to determine the exact species of violets found growing in the wild. For most of us, that means referring to violets that look blue as blue violets and those that look purple as purple violets.
Whatever you call them, these delightful little wildflowers emerge in early spring and can be found in woodlands, meadows, edges of forested areas and even on banks along the roadside. Some violets invade lawns.
Violets prefer humus-rich, well-drained soil that is moderately moist, but will grow in nearly any soil.
This violet is obviously more purple than blue, but I can't confidently identify the species to give it a proper name. Note the yellow center that differs from the white throat in the blue violets above. Purple violets tend to grow in clumps.
Delicate white violets can also be found throughout Maine, but they are not without their variations, too. This variety, called Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda), is a small woodland violet. It has an intense, sweet fragrance.
Yellow violets (Viola pensylvanica) typically grow under deciduous trees in areas where the sun reaches the ground in the spring, but they can be found in mixed forests. Look for clumps of yellow violets around the bases of trees or along the edges of wooded areas. Yellow violets often spread freely, blanketing a large area with a splash of yellow in early spring.
If you grew up in Maine you probably call Red Trilliums (Trillium vaseyi or Trillum Erectus) Stinking Benjamins while in other areas they are often referred to as Stinking Willies. Both names refer to the odor of the Red Trillium. While some describe the scent as "wet dog" others say they smell faintly of rotting flesh. According to scientists, the scent is the trillium's way of attracting insects to increase the odds of pollination. Still others call the trillium Wake Robins because they bloom at about the same time robins return to the area in the spring.
Whatever you call them, these spring flowers bloom in early spring and can be found in deciduous of mixed forests, particularly where there are beech trees. Look for areas where the sun reaches the forest floor in the spring to find these harbingers of spring.
According to Penn State, a trillium plant can live up to 30 years and must be 15 years old to bloom.
The Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) is common in central Maine, although less so than the red. Painted Trillium blooms are somewhat smaller than the Red Trillium, but what they lack in size is more than made up for with their maroon-painted centers. The bright coloration in the center is thought to direct pollinators.
White Trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) also grow in Maine, but I have never seen one in my local area. Trilliums all grow in the same basic areas and prefer rich, acidic soil that is moderately moist and drains well.
Look for Trilliums along the edges of wooded areas, in sunny spots under trees and in moist ditches in April and May.
A red berry containing two or three seeds forms after the blooms have faded. By fall the berry is bright red. Deer are known to eat the berries at times, but it is unknown if other wildlife eat them.
The flowers of the bunchberry plant (Cornus canadensis) look remarkably similar to dogwood blooms for a very good reason. Bunchberries are also known as dwarf dogwood and belong to the same family.
These hardy wildflowers grow in shady or semi-shaded areas, usually under deciduous trees. They prefer slightly moist, acidic soil. They bloom in late spring, typically around the first of June in central Maine.
While these flowers look like simple four-petaled flowers, looks can be deceiving. The white petals aren't actually petals at all. They are bracts. Bracts are modified leaves that rest just below the flower on a plant. While bracts are typically green and look like a leaf (although their shape is usually different from the other leaves on the plant), Some plants produce bracts that look more like petals to attract insect pollinators.
The true flowers of the bunchberry plant are in the center of the bracts. There are 20 to 50 flowers ranging from green to white in the center of the four white bracts.
When pollinated, the tiny center flowers each produce a berry forming a cluster of berries lending it the name bunchberry. The berries ripen to a bright orange-red by August and can be found well into the fall, if birds do not eat them.
The Blue-Bead Lily (Clintonia spp.) is a rather unassuming flower that is easily overlooked in the spring. The greenish-yellow blooms form in clusters held above the ground on slender 4 to 15 inch stalks. They are considered a boreal or woodland wildflower and grow under hardwood. It often co-exists with hobblebush, striped maple and red trillium.
Foliage consists of several large basal leaves that resemble the leaves of lady's slippers. These flowers are often found growing in areas where trillium and jack in the pulpit grow, typically in sunny areas near the edges of wooded areas. They can also be found along roadsides in early spring. At first glance the Blue-Bead Lily may be mistaken for the trout lily, but blooms are smaller and lack speckling.
In the late summer and fall the Blue-Bead Lily produces clusters of bright blue berries that brighten the landscape. These showy berries make up for any lack the spring flowers exhibit.
The lowly Colt's Foot (Tussilago farfara) flower is often overlooked as it grows in early spring along roadsides and ditches. From a distance it looks like a dandelion, but when you take a closeup look at this flower, you will be amazed by it's beauty.
Colt's Foot is a composite flower, which means what we commonly call the flower or bloom is really made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. Ray flowers (that look like petals) make up the outer rim of the flower, while the center eye of the flower contains hundreds of complete flowers.
When the Colt's Foot flower first opens, you will see tiny yellow buds in the center, but within a day or two the tiny buds open to reveal miniature flowers that remind me of daffodils.
Colt's Foot flowers provide nectar and pollen to hungry bees and flying insects in the spring before many other flowers have bloomed.
Every year I hear people talking about finding tiger lilies along the roadside, but what they are really referring to are orange ditch lilies. While they both grow in similar locations and are both orange, they are distinctly different flowers.
The tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium and Lilium tigrinum) produces clusters of bright-orange blooms speckled with black or crimson dots. The bloom faces downward with its petals folding backward to expose the center of the flower. Tiger lily blooms are long-lasting. Foliage lines the stem of the flowers. Tiger lilies reproduce via underground bulbs.
The orange ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva) produces bold, orange blooms atop a slender stem. Although there are several buds atop each stem, each opens for only one day. As the petals shrivel and fall from the plant, a new bloom opens to take it's place. Foliage is grass-like and separate from the flower stem. Orange ditch lilies do not have spots. Ditch lilies have tuberous roots.
Tiger Lilies and Orange Ditch Lilies are both attractive flowers that can be found growing wild along roadsides in early to midsummer.
New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae) can be found throughout Maine and other New England states, but they are not exclusive to New England. These hardy wildflowers also grow across much of the continental United States. Blooming in late summer or early fall, they continue to bloom until a hard frost in late fall.
New England Asters blanket roadsides, ditches and other open areas, creating vibrant color after many of the native flowers have faded. Color ranges from purple-blue to lavender and pink. They are often found in clusters and may have several variations of color within the cluster as the plants self-seed readily and frequently grow close together. They may reach heights of six feet, but most are three to four feet high.
Legend of New England Asters
According to Greek legend, the aster originated from the tears of the goddess Astraea. When the Greek god Jupiter decided to flood the earth to stop men from warring, Astraea was so distraught she asked to be turned into a star. But, her lofty position as a star did not spare her despair. When the flood waters receded, Astraea was overcome with sorrow for the loss of lives and began to cry. Her tears magically transformed to stardust and fell to the earth. The lovely aster flower sprung forth where her tears dampened the earth.
New England Asters Are a Valuable Food Source for Pollinators
These flowers are valuable to pollinators as they provide nectar for bees and flying insects in the fall when there is little available from other flowers. A cluster of New England Asters is typically abuzz with activity from bees, butterflies and other flying insects.
While you can purchase cultivated New England Asters from seed companies and nurseries, you can also dig up wild asters for your garden bed or to plant along fences or the edges of your property. If you choose to dig up asters, make sure you ask the property owner for permission.
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