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12 Reasons Why Horticulture Jobs Can Make You Healthier and Happier

Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life, the old saying goes, and horticultural professionals couldn't agree more. But we went a step further, talking to horticulture enthusiasts to get the dirt on all the reasons why gardening is so very groovy—and good for you.

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You’re doing what you love

It’s great to get expert gardening tips from people with horticulture jobs, but it also pays to look at why they’re in that line of work. People with horticulture jobs like Lester Poole’s—Poole is the Master Gardener for the department store chain, Lowes, tend to love their job (as Poole does) and also their lives. “People who have jobs involving gardening tend to have a keen interest in, or passion for, gardening,” says registered psychologist, Eamonn Leaver, adding that “studies show that people who have a passion for their work have lower rates of physical and mental health problems, and report significantly higher levels of overall life satisfaction.” These are the secrets from a master gardener to growing the rose garden of your dreams.

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You’re digging in the dirt

Children and puppies just love playing in the mud. Ever wonder why? It turns digging around in the dirt improves sleep and reduces pain, according to a scientific study that reviewed and acknowledged the benefits of gardening. The study authors conclude that gardening is a great way to transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into the body.

“Emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth,” according to the study authors. “Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact….Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.

Avid gardener Brian Taylor, who is also a relationship coach and author, told Reader’s Digest that he gardens in his bare feet because it is his understanding that “soil microbes produce serotonin, the happy hormone, which is absorbed through the feet,” Taylor says. Although he occasionally gets cuts on his feet (and very dirty), it’s “well worth it,” he says. Taylor’s version of horticultural therapy appears to be well-supported by science, by the way.

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You wake up curious

“Gardening is one of the greatest joys in my life and has been for decades,” says Kathryn Hall, a longtime internationally known top-ranked gardening blogger and author of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom From the Garden. And one of the reasons is that she wakes up every morning with a driving curiosity to learn “what has transpired during the night.”

Did a rose bloom?” she wonders. “Did a bumblebee curl up inside a hollyhock for the night? And there he still is, asleep in its petals! And what are those small brown seeds in the bird bath? What was the bird who left them eating? Is the lawn covered with autumn leaves and what shall I do about it? Did the crimson clover seeds sprout yet? Why are the ravens fussing in the oak tree?”

And all that Hall learns serves as the basis for understanding more deeply the nature of the world in which she lives. “I begin each day, then, breathing fresh air, out of doors, poised for taking in the beauty and stimulation gardening provides, while both stretching and strengthening my body. When I have finished my mind and heart are better prepared for whatever tasks come the rest of the day.”

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You appreciate impermanence

Many of our gardening professionals and hobbyists we spoke to described the ways in which gardening teaches incredibly useful life lessons that have a way of soothing the psyche. For example, Poole, Lowes’ master gardener, says that gardening reminds us over and over that there is great beauty and even peace in the impermanence that is inherent to our existence. “Anything that can be done in the garden with a shovel can be undone with a shovel.”

Do this 10-minute yoga-workout every day, and you will learn lessons about impermanence as you observe your thoughts and your body’s responses over time.

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They know that if you fail, you can try again

“You’re going to find that us gardeners are generally happy folks,” says Pam Farley, who has turned her love of gardening into a career in writing. “We’re happy even when the aphids ruin our roses and the snails slaughter our veggies.” As Farley points out, when things go south, you just try again. When plants don’t seem to like where you’ve placed them, you can move them. If you’re having problems with drainage, you can amend your soil. Too much light? Add a shade tree.

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They know the secret benefit of nurturing

Although it’s obvious that gardening teaches us the importance of nurturing what we care about, it’s a lot less obvious what develops when you nurture something (or someone) properly. “When our plants are just starting out, they fully rely on our care. We have to keep them watered, protect them from the wind. But eventually, we learn that plants that are well-nurtured in their early lives develop the ability to take care of themselves over time.” It’s not unlike the way it is with raising children, he points out. Indeed, one of the wonderful miracles of child-rearing is seeing those babies become self-sufficient.

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They reap the rewards of being active

There’s also something to be said about the benefits of a job that involve high levels of physical activity. “Horticulture jobs tend to be precisely that,” says psychologist Leaver. “It’s great for the mind and the body. Humans are meant to be physically active; it’s built into our genes. Those who do a lot of physical activity experience substantial physical and mental health benefits.”

Poole, whose job keeps him “active and accountable” couldn’t agree more. Parenting expert Cherie Corso, who has recently taken on the task of managing her home’s garden along with her husband, agrees as well. “I absolutely love getting the exercise,” she says, “and it comes with a feeling of accomplishment and pride.”

Even if you don’t necessarily feel that same urge to stay active, you can use this trick to enjoy your workouts.

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They enjoy the calming effects

“For me, there’s a calming effect,” says garden blogger and author Dianne Venetta, who says she’s always happy in the garden, even when she’s weeding. “You get to be one with nature. You’re taking part in one of the most fundamental aspects of life, and contributing to the circle of life in a real way,” Venetta explains. And even though she acknowledges there’s “never a dull moment in a garden,” the buzz of activity is soothing.

What Venetta may be referring to is the mindfulness aspect of gardening, of which licensed mental health counselor, Marion Rodrigue, LMHC, NCC, speaks highly. “In our busy, hectic world, we are rarely fully present,” she says “but gardening gives us the opportunity to connect with nature and experience mindfulness. Mindfulness is about experiencing the world in the present moment and offers a person a way of freeing himself from automatic and unhealthy ways of thinking and reacting. When a person is feeling the sunlight and digging in the dirt, he or she is in touch with nature.

Even if you can’t get out into the garden today, you can try fitting these mindfulness tips into your busy schedule.

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They feel connected with the earth

“Gardening creates a very special connection between you and the earth,” says California cannabis-farmer Troy Meadows. “It provides us with nourishment and medicine, and being so close to those life sources really helps put things in perspective. You give to the land, and the land gives back to you tenfold.” One way that Meadows gives to the land is by doing all of his growing without chemicals.

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They use it to connect with their kids

The lessons we learn from the garden are important lessons we should all instill in our children, observes nursery-owner, Anthony Smith. “As parents, we owe it to our children to introduce them to it because when people are asked where their attitudes towards home gardening come from, the vast majority say it was their parents.”

And how hard is it to interest a child in gardening? Not hard at all. Children find gardening “play” satisfying on a visceral level: they dig around in the dirt, “play” with tools, and work with their hands. But as they’re playing, they’re also learning fundamental life lessons, such as those discussed above, along with patience, responsibility, humility, and work ethic.

“If you share your love of gardening with a child,” notes blogger, Venetta, “it definitely keeps you young at heart.”

Have we mentioned the surprising health benefits of gardening?

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They enjoy community

Clinical psychologist and garden volunteer at Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site, Julie Simens, sees gardening as an opportunity for human connection. “To me one of the biggest benefits of working with other gardeners, whether it is a peer or your spouse, is it gives you time together doing pleasant exercise with the opportunity to focus on beauty.”

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They’re closer to their food

“There is something empowering about growing your own food,” says Nikhil Arora, co-founder with Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots, which they started as seniors at UC Berkeley. “There’s nothing more personal than food. It’s how we fuel our body, and to take that process from seed to spoon to smile is just fun. It never gets old. Whether your five or 95, it’s rewarding. In fact, there’s something magical about creating something from nothing, and then having that feed you or your family.”

Registered dietitian, Bess Berger, RD, CDN, CLT highly recommends gardening as a way to reconnect with food in a healthy way. “Over and over in my practice, I find it helps one slow down our often fast-paced way of gulping down our food.” She describes vegetable gardening as “Eating Mindfulness 101” because “if you garden and grow your own vegetables you focus more when you eat. You’re more mindful when you eat them.”

The process of growing your own food connects you to the earth in a tangible way, according to self-professed “gentleman farmer,” Ed Roman. “I feel elated and proud of the things that I can grow. It gives me a peace of mind. It’s an elixir for my soul, a fountain for my mortal coil.” You can’t buy that at the supermarket, Roman points out just before he offers his “Jedi-Zen Gardening blessing to our readers: May the onion be with you.

We bet you can grow at least one of these foods that many expert nutritionists think you should eat every single day.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.