All around us, life is happening at a rapid rate. Work, family, friends, and hobbies can be hard to balance.  Suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) causes restrictions to your regular routine, often requires the elimination of certain activities, and adaptations to your current lifestyle.  Knowing your triggers and how to control your symptoms is a daily battle.  Recent research indicates the benefits of nature and gardening.  What benefits can we see from spending 20 minutes in the garden and how do we personalize our Horticulture therapy to our particular recovery?


 Benefits from the Garden

Spending time outside (hiking, biking, walking, coffee on the porch, gardening) assists in the recovery of your TBI in many different ways.  Studies have shown during various stress tests that the “Garden Group” had lower levels of Cortisol (the Stress Hormone), which has been linked to obesity, heart disease, memory loss, and learning problems.  The “Garden Group” receiving Vitamin D and fresh air were overall in a better mood, had increased self-esteem (I did it! I grew a plant from seed!), and experienced reduced anxiety, stress, depression, and blood pressure.

Beneficial bacteria Mycobacertium vaccae found in dirt, has been studied and found to be favorable in several ways.  The bacterium connects with immune cells to discourage inflammation and expand adaption to stress.  Somewhat controversial, the “hygiene hypothesis” (circa 1989) states that with the modernization of cultures and movement from farms to cities, we have created a sterile environment, lacking exposure to beneficial organisms, causing allergies, asthma, inflammatory diseases, and stress related psychiatric disorders, leading to mental health issues.  (A little dirt, don’t hurt.)

Exaggerated inflammation on the brain advances the risk of trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  A group of men and women in their 60’s spending time in a garden each day have shown a %36 less chance to develop dementia with repetition, exercise, and social interaction.


Personalize your Horticulture Therapy

Suffering a trauma or life-changing injury can also affect your balance, mobility, endurance, strength, mood, and mental well-being.  Gardening can improve your hand strength and dexterity, provide exercise decreasing the risk for stroke and heart attack, and can be adapted to fit your current stage of recovery.  Horticulture therapy is becoming a common practice at mental health facilities, rehabilitation hospitals, prisons, and facilities for elders.  Shared, community-style gardens adapted for recovery assist stroke victims, suicide survivors, casualties of paralysis, and more.

Create your own personal outdoor space and version of Horticulture Therapy.  This can be achieved on any level.  A quiet corner of your yard for yoga, a small porch or deck for the sunrise or sunset, a community garden with friends, a hammock under your favorite tree, a peaceful private spot at a public park, or a sunny window in your house.  Raised beds and container gardens decrease bending  and can be adapted to match your current balance and mobility. Indoor houseplant gardens increase air quality and provide Horticulture interest in Winter.


What to Grow?

Growing your own flowers, houseplants, fruits, and vegetables creates a sense of accomplishment, while improving your overall health!  Researchers have proven that plant-based diets high in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil decrease the rate of aging and improve the health of your brain.   If considering growing vegetables or fruits, start small to supplement your diet and choose plants that prefer our unique environment.

Choose cold-loving vegetables with Lower Days to Mature for our short growing environment (70-80).  Avoid warm-loving vegetables (tomatoes, peppers) unless you plan to cover in a structure or grow inside (remember to self-pollinate). Choose a few crops — such as the ones below — to try and share extras with friends and neighbors to encourage “growth.”

  • Carrots
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Snap Peas
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Summer Squash
  • Herbs-Basil, Cilantro, Mint, Dill, Parsley, Chives, Sage, Thyme
  • Rhubarb, Lovage, Asparagus- Perennial

Annual and perennial flower gardens can be created in the ground, raised beds, or containers.  Choose Zone 3-4 Perennials for your returning bloomers. Annuals can be picked by color for sun or shade, and enjoyed for one season.  Waiting and observing for your favorite bloom or sharing a cut-flower bouquet with a friend creates a great feeling.  Experience the distinct colors and textures of each plant, improving visual and tactile ability.

Biologist Edward O. Wilson describes “biophilia” as the connection between people and living, growing things, encouraging us to be a part of the web of life.  I feel this on my morning hikes to Rainbow Lake with my dog, tending to my own plants and garden, and while surfing down mountains on my snowboard. While every injury is different, adapting your lifestyle to include your Personalized Horticulture Therapy can aid in your recovery.

Gardening can be the seed that produces a greater well-being for you and those around you.