The Many Health Benefits of Gardening

lovely gardening table with sunshine

Credit:jill111, Pixabay

Guest Blogger, Maria Cannon

Regardless of whether you grow flowers or vegetables, gardening can help to improve your health in a variety of ways. Working in the garden has spiritual rewards, eases stress, improves your mood, and provides exercise. In addition, gardening vegetables gives you access to fresh, healthy produce. It’s clear to see that gardening positively affects your life in every aspect.

Mental Benefits

Being able to get your hands dirty while digging and actually creating something can provide some people with a spiritual calmness. According to Rodale’s Organic Life, “mounting evidence shows that a number of health and behavior problems, including anxiety and depression, are directly linked to the amount of time you spend outside.” Gardening is a sensory experience that connects people to nature, which is great for stress relief. In fact, one study suggests that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.

Our lives are constantly in motion, and sometimes we forget to take time to slow down and relax. However, experts say that humans have a limited capacity for the directed attention required by our constant need to be plugged into tablets, computers, and phones. When that capacity gets used up, we become irritable, distracted, and stressed. To combat this attention fatigue, we need to replenish ourselves by engaging in an activity that requires an effortless form of attention. Gardening is considered one such activity, and thus reduces stress.

According to one study, gardening can also improve depression symptoms. Depression brings a whole host of other issues, including changes in sleeping and eating habits that negatively impact overall health. Additionally, around 30 percent of people diagnosed with a mental illness will abuse either alcohol or drugs. Keeping your mental health in check helps to keep your overall health in check too.


Gardening gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and gets your blood flowing. There are a variety of different movements in gardening, so you get some exercise benefits as well. Since people find gardening to be pleasurable and see it as reaching a goal (having food to eat or increasing their home’s curb appeal), they are more likely to stick with it. This is because when exercise has a context, it reinforces you to keep at it. Many duties of yard work fall under gardening, so it can be adapted to fit your individual needs.

Light gardening – such as weeding, digging, and planting – are great for strength or stretching exercises. Since light gardening is a low-impact exercise, people who find more vigorous exercise to be challenging, such as the elderly, disabled, or chronic pain sufferers, may find gardening to be exactly what they need. On the flip side, some gardening can be an intense workout. Cutting down and digging up bushes, hauling wheelbarrows of dirt, and push mowing your lawn are sure to give you a full-body workout and increase your heart rate.

Brain Health & Nutrition

Gardening can be good for your brain. Some research suggests that maintenance of physical activity, especially daily gardening, can help lower the risk of developing dementia by 34 percent when compared to non-gardeners. This held true even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.

Several studies have also shown that gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than those who don’t grow gardens, and those healthy eating habits are passed on to their children. Not only do the children eat more fruits and vegetables, but they’re also more adventurous about trying new foods. The food you grow yourself is the freshest food you can eat, and because home gardens are typically filled with fruits and vegetables, it’s also full of healthy foods. Also, the fresher the food, the more tasteful the food, so food straight from your garden is packed with intense and enjoyable flavors.

Getting Started

“Most of us can roll up our sleeves with a surprisingly small amount of effort. Remember, you can start small, even with just a single plant or two,” says Good Housekeeping. If you lack space, start a garden in containers. If you lack experience, start with plants that easier to maintain and require little effort, such as lettuce and carrots. The Internet and bookstores are full of resources for gardeners of all levels.

You can also check to see if you have a local garden club or community garden near you, and you can learn straight from experienced gardeners. This spring, start reaping the many benefits of gardening.

Ominous Omnibus Environment Bill

As background, on Wednesday, March 29, the Omnibus Environment bill, Senate File 723, passed the Senate on a vote of 36-30.  Two DFLers voted yea: Senator Eken from Twin Valley; and Senator Tomassoni, from Chisholm. On Thursday, March 30, the Omnibus Environment bill, House File 888, passed the House on a vote of 80-53.  Three DFLers voted yea: Rep. Ecklund from International Falls; Rep. Marquart from Dillworth; and Rep. Metsa from Virginia.

It is vitally important that all of us contact Governor Dayton ASAP (via e-mail; phone calls; letter)  and ask that he veto House File 888/Senate File 723.  Governor Dayton’s contact information is:

130 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155

Telephone: 651-201-3400

Governor Dayton’s e-mail contact information is located at:

Please reach out to your legislators (find them and their contact info. here)

Read letters:

MEP – HF 888 Floor Letter (3-30-17) MEP – SF 723 – Senate Floor Letter

MEP – SF 723 – Senate Floor Letter

Gratitude: A Mindful Solution to Pollution

Positive psychologists are fascinated by what raises our mood, but it was Aristotle who identified two pathways to conscious happiness:

Fulfillment: Using our gifts and talents on behalf of what matters to us

Contentment: Experiencing pleasurable moments and being satisfied with life

This time of year people spend a fair amount of time searching for the perfect gifts to make their loved ones content. Acquiring new toys and gadgets does make us happier—for a while. A new toy, or even car, is exciting as the dopamine kicks in, but eventually the brain gets familiar with the new item and searches for something else new. The “feel-good” just doesn’t last. This phenomenon is known as the “hedonistic treadmill,” or the tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events.

As a capitalistic society, “Got to have it! Got it! Want something else!” is not only the norm, it is the underpinning of American culture. But, not only is this behavior of constant consumption ultimately unfulfilling, it is destructive to our Earth. Right now we inhabit the planet with nearly 7.5 billion other people. In trying to understand this enormous number, consider that more people have been born in the last 50 years, than the previous 4 million years. Logically, more people on the planet means more consumption of finite resources.

In 2009, Swedish and Australian scientists Johan Rockström and Will Steffen led a group of prominent scientists, including Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, that proposed a framework of “planetary boundaries” designed to define a “safe operating space for humanity.” The group identified nine “planetary life support systems” essential for human survival, and attempted to quantify just how far these systems have been pushed already. They then estimated how much further we can go before our own survival is threatened; beyond these boundaries there is a risk of “irreversible and abrupt environmental change” which could make Earth less habitable. Their research indicates that three of these boundaries—climate change, biodiversity loss, and the biogeochemical flow (aka nitrogen cycle) boundaries—have already been crossed.

The possibility that three planetary boundaries have already been crossed is jaw-dropping and daunting. Since most of us aren’t world leaders, it’s hard to know where to start and what could make an impact. What is the remedy to this “never enough” syndrome? Gratitude. As it turns out, dopamine and other uplifting chemicals are released by the acts of gratitude and savoring. This is because our dopamine output increases not only when we experience something pleasurable the first time, but again when we remember it—so we get a double dose, or triple! It encourages our brains to pay attention to what we have and give it a lasting effect and meaning.

So does this mean you should just show your loved ones pictures of what you gave them last year and tell them that you hope they still like it? That might not be popular, but what if gifts weren’t the focus of festivities? What about making a group activity like caroling, volunteering, baking or a sleigh ride the focus? What if families taught their children to have a different relationship with belongings? It’s true that some material goods are essential and life-saving, a lot of stuff is just stuff. It’s not the gifts that make the season great, it’s the gratitude for all of life’s blessings. Happy holidays!

Is It Time for Yard 2.0?

A question I wish people asked themselves is: ‘If the only time I go out to my yard is to mow, do I really need this area as lawn?’

Americans love their lawns. And, there’s no doubt about it, lawns make a fantastic place to picnic and recreate. A tidy lawn represents social status, obligation to neighbors, and even patriotism. A weedy lawn, on the other hand, is a symbol of laziness, a social faux pas, and sometimes even considered rude.

But, let’s reconsider lawns for a minute. We water and fertilize lawns so they will grow only to complain about having to mow our lawns. And what do we do with the cut grass? Bale it and sell it? Eat it? No. At best, clippings are left on the lawn so they can act as a fertilizer. At worst, the clippings are bagged and thrown away, not even allowing those nutrients to be composted or go back into the soil.

Read More

Nature-Lover’s Guide to the State Fair Urban Jungle


Getting There

The busses and free shuttles still provide amazing service to the transit hub and the gate on Snelling. Or, if fair-goers are bent on American individualism, new Uber users can get up to $20 off their first ride by entering the code MNSTATEFAIR16 when signing up at Uber has two designated drop-off and pick-up points: northeast end of the fairgrounds near Snelling & Hoyt (Gate 2 at 1806 Hoyt Ave.) and outside the northwest end of the fairgrounds (University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus CECC turnaround at 1890 Buford Ave.) To get home, use the Uber app to request a ride and follow the phone instructions to locate a driver.


First Stop, Eco-Experience (Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

Located at Cosgrove St. and Randall Ave.

For people who love nature—and want to protect it, visiting the Eco-Experience building is a must. A partnership between the State Fair, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and more than 150 organizations and businesses across the state, the Eco-Experience has it all. There are engaging exhibits around each turn and the “Sustainability Stage” features hourly demos/shows on reduce-reuse-recycle how-tos, healthy cooking, innovations in green technology, leisurely landscaping using native plants, transportation and more. View the schedule at

Before entering the building, be sure to join the West Metro Water Alliance’s campaign Pledge to Plant—for Pollinators and Clean Water near the enormous windmill blade sticking out of the ground at the building entrance. There is even a native plant scavenger hunt near the pledge station to familiarize fair-goers with suitable native plants that offer benefits beyond just looking beautiful.

Inside, a 15-foot Paul Bunyan donning a new outfit and calls attention to a giant-sized waste problem: Minnesotans throw away nearly 12 grocery carts of clothing and textiles every MINUTE. Another symbol of Minnesota—hockey. Check out the Watershed Partners’ storm drain goalie exhibit to find out how to be a local legend in protecting water.

Read more…

Calling Everyone Who Likes to Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Please Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water

Pledge to Plant...for Pollinators and Clean Water!

Pledge to Plant!


West Metro Water Alliance, Blue Thumb—Planting for Clean Water® along with scores of other partners are launching the Pledge to Plant for Pollinators and Clean Water Project ( Adding native (wildflower) plantings, raingardens, and shoreline plantings to landscapes increases pollinator corridors/habitat and protects water by capturing and filtering runoff. The project’s goal is to get landowners to plant 10,000 native plantings (of any size) to protect pollinators and our 10,000 lakes by 2020.

Read more

Pollinator Puppet Show at Barnes & Noble

Sat. Sept. 19th at 11 AM

Sat. Sept. 19th at 11 AM

Local Author Performs Children’s Book as a Puppet Show—Fun for All Ages!

­Barnes & Noble—HarMar in Roseville, Minnesota—Local author, Dawn Pape will share her love of nature and message about protecting our pollinators as she performs her new book, Mason Meets a Mason Bee as a puppet show on Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 11:00 A.M. at the HarMar Barnes & Nobel Booksellers located at 2100 N. Snelling Av, Roseville, MN 55113. She will also be reading her Thank You, Bugs! book with a similar message that celebrates pollinators.

Barnes & Noble Roseville has extended an unprecedented invitation to author Dawn Pape to return for another storytime due to the overwhelming response to her June 2015 appearance and books Thank You, Bugs! and Mason Meets A Mason Bee.  Dawn’s books and puppet show perfectly complement the Barnes & Noble National storybook of the month Bug in a Vacuum. “This time we need to order more books! We ran out last time,” commented Barnes & Noble Community Business Development Manager, Janet Waller.

Mason Meets a Mason Bee is about a boy who is afraid of bees until his life is transformed by an educational encounter with a talking mason bee—yes, a bee sharing his own name! Mason conquers his fear of bees and feels like a superhero on a mission to save bees. This rhyming picture storybook performed, as a puppet show, sends young audiences into fits of laughter as it teaches weighty topics in a light and fun way. Children and adults will likely come away with new knowledge about habitat, pesticide use, native bees, and native plants.

Ms. Pape got the idea to write “Mason Meets a Mason Bee” several years ago when Pape found ground-nesting bees under her deck where her then toddler, Mason, was playing. As a parent, her first reaction was to protect her son and eradicate the bees. But she soon learned that these native bees were virtually stingless and had a short lifecycle. Instead of getting rid of the bees, she just barricaded the area off for a few weeks. Although she determined the bees nesting under her deck most likely were not mason bees, she learned that there were over 400 species of native bees in Minnesota with important stories to be told. And, when she learned there was a fascinating and gentle native bee sharing her son’s name, she knew she had a story to share. She also added that not just the honey bee numbers are plummeting, but all bees—and they need our help. Pape said, “Since bees help make the food we eat everyday, it’s really in our own best interest to pay a little attention to them,” added Pape.

It took almost three years for the idea for the book to come to life, but the timing is perfect. There is a lot of buzz about mason bees also called “orchard bees” because of their tremendous pollinating abilities. Both of Pape’s children’s books retail for $9.99. She also has created a K-5 teacher’s guide for Mason Meets a Mason Bee ($19.99). Pape said she is eager to continue performing her puppet show at more schools, books stores, libraries.

When asked about the photography in the book, Pape said, “I knew I wanted to use my son as the main character for the book and he is so expressive and I love photography, so it was a perfect fit.” In responding to whether she took the pictures of the mason bees, Pape quickly replied, “Oh, no! Mason bees are are extremely fast. I couldn’t dream of catching those photos. My bee photos featured in the book are thanks to local author Heather Holm (Pollinators of Native Plants) and Dave Hunter with Crown Bees, a mason bee seller in Washington.”

Dawn Pape is a self-proclaimed “Lawn Chair Gardener” and specializes in intermingling native plants with vegetables and herbs and embraces the concept of “functional” yards rather than just purely aesthetic yards. She practices what she preaches in her own award-winning gardens. Lawn Chair Gardener, LLC was founded by Dawn Pape who has worked in education and the environmental field for over 20 years and has been a Master Gardener for 16 years. The purpose of the company is to promote eco-friendly multi-purposed gardens through speaking presentations and her books. For more information, contact Dawn at 651-485-5171 or or visit

Year-Round Harvests—Even in Minnesota

Winter Harvest

Zone 4. Bring it.

Link to article Shoreview Press from December 16

It’s 25°F in Shoreview, but inside my covered garden it’s a delightful 83°F—and I just harvested arugula, baby kale, spinach and tatsoi for a savory salad. When I tell people about my new covered gardens, reactions range from excited (‘Wow! I didn’t even know that was possible!’) to absolutely bewildered. I have several reasons why I have extended my gardening hobby into the winter. Namely, I enjoy growing healthy food for my family and reducing our carbon footprint by eating locally. I also get an emotional boost from seeing vibrant greens against the snow. And, I always love a challenge. Anyone can plant during fair weather, but can I keep this garden going all winter?

Weed-Free Yards Without Chemicals

toddler boy with dandelions


If only we could bottle my son’s excitement about dandelions and sprinkle the potion on the “old school” yard maintenance crowd who still regards dandelions as weeds. That’s right, dandelions are increasingly being considered an early spring flower critical for the survival of honeybees.

In early spring when there are few flowers available for foraging, perhaps the single most valuable early spring wildflower is the dandelion. If a honeybee hive survives the winter, beekeepers know the bees will be safe from starvation if they can stay alive until dandelions bloom. Dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant. It doesn’t normally produce enough nectar to produce honey above and beyond what the bees will use for themselves, (so a person doesn’t generally see dandelion honey for sale), but it gives the bees a huge boost and adds to the health of the hive.

Helping honeybees is in our own best interest, of course, since they our nation’s leading crop pollinator. Imagine the labor costs of hiring workers to pollinate the nation’s crops by hand to our produce fruits, vegetables and nuts. While honeybees are clearly not the only hard working pollinators, their recent deaths from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) starting in 2006 have captured the world’s attention. To date, CCD has been defined as a series of symptoms, but the cause and the cure remain complex and elusive. But CCD is not the only problem facing honeybees. In 2010, the overwintering losses were at the same unsustainable rates of over 30% but the cause seemed to be less from CCD than from other problems. Habitat loss combined with a class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, seem to be the big cuprits that are making survival for our insect friends a challenge. Neonicotinoids (aka neonics), related to nicotine, attack the insects’ nervous systems. Neonics, are systemic, meaning they permeate the whole plant, including the nectar and pollen and they persist for years unlike other insecticides. The neonics do not kill the insects on contact, but impare the insects’ ability to navigate back to their hives or nests. In addition, insects, like bees, feed on the nectar and bring pollen back to their brood slowly weakening the whole colony with these neuro-toxins making them more susceptible to disease.

A very simple way to help honeybees is to refrain from killing or removing the dandelions in lawns. Perhaps all a person needs to do is view the cheery little yellow flower as a desired flower rather than a weed. I haven’t given up on my lawn, I swear. (Although I keep putting in more and more functional gardens so I have less and less lawn.) But I think bees have enough strikes against them these days. If I can help their plight by doing nothing, it seems like a pretty good deal for both of us. I can feel good about enjoying a little time in my lawn chair and not feeling a sense of guilt for not keeping up with up with the neighbors’ with attentive yard care. I am, after all, a self-proclaimed Lawn Chair Gardener.

Remember: a “weed” is an unwanted plant. If you want all the plants in your yard, you won’t have a single weed!

Countdown to Spying Green Grass: Planting Seeds of Change

It’s that time of year again when a person starts wondering if green blades of grass will ever reappear. In considering lawns, a manicured lawn may either invoke a smile or scorn. For some, lawn care is a hobby and a source of pride with perfected mowing patterns as beautiful as a patchwork quilt. Others might sneer at this same green lawn for being a burden, boring or even for consuming excessive amounts of water, fertilizers, weed killers and fuel for powering mowers and leaf blowers. Fine-fescues to the rescue! Learn how these grasses are mending fences and giving everyone what they want...