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University of Illinois Extension

10 Reasons to Garden

January 1, 2013

Although winter is here, it is never a bad time to think about gardening, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"In our hurry-up, busy world filled with electronic gadgets, where does gardening fit in?" asked Martha Smith. "The gadgets of gardening aren't flashy--a shovel, pruners, hoses, and bags of seeds. All are simple yet practical, and guaranteed to bring satisfaction and sustenance."

Smith shared a recent survey of gardeners that shed light on why people garden. The survey produced the top 10 justifications for gardening. The results, said Smith, is an inspiring list of reasons to garden.

"The top reason was gardening for safe and healthy food," she said. "Reports of food-borne illnesses and contamination have been widely publicized. Interest in organic gardening and the availability of organic produce has increased. Consumers are aware of additives and preservatives found in processed foods.

"An easy solution to these concerns is to grow your own fruits and vegetables. It is estimated that during World War II, 20 million homeowners had Victory Gardens that produced close to 40 percent of the fresh produce consumed in the United States. Start your own garden and know that the foods you and your family are eating are fresh and safe."

Ranked second was gardening for exercise. Exercising by gardening is free, she pointed out.

"Gardening activities provide both cardio and aerobic exercise," Smith said. "Studies show that an hour of moderate gardening can burn up to 300 calories for women and almost 400 calories for men.

"Mowing the grass is like taking a vigorous walk, bending and stretching to plant a garden compares to an exercise class. Hauling plants and soil is similar to weightlifting. As we age, gardening can help reduce osteoporosis. If you have physical limitations, adaptive tools are available to help you get the job done."

Gardening for beauty is number three on the top 10 list.

A garden, Smith explained, can enhance any outdoor setting. Simply adding a container of colorful flowers to a patio brightens spirits. Trees and shrubs not only provide color and shade, but shelter for birds and wildlife.

"Think of the garden as another room to be enjoyed whether you are inside or outside your house," she said.

Number four on this list was gardening to learn.

"You can learn by reading and you can learn by doing. Getting out and working with plants builds your gardening knowledge," she said. "Gardeners find that the more they learn about plants and gardening, the more they want to know. Plant problems lead to learning solutions. Removing a problem plant allows you the opportunity to try something else."

Gardening to make money was fifth on the list.

"The love of plants can lead to a rewarding job at a local garden center or a large landscape firm or to owning your own business," said Smith. "Whether growing flowers, vegetables, or herbs, there are opportunities to sell your products at local farmer's markets or craft shows.

"Landscaping an investment property can add to the resale value by as much as 15 percent. This 'curb appeal' could make the difference between your house selling or not."

The sixth reason for gardening is the opportunity it provides to meet people.

"Gardeners love to share their gardens and their knowledge," explained Smith. "Gardening is a great way to expand your social circle. Whether it's with a neighbor who lives next door or an Internet pal on the other side of the world, gardeners love to talk about plants.

"Meeting other gardeners through garden clubs and sharing surplus plants is an easy way to share information, ask questions, and get involved."

Coming in seventh was the motivation of creativity.

"Gardening provides an outlet for creative and artistic expression," she said. "The serene, contemplative mood of a Japanese garden or the romantic feel of a cottage garden--let your creativity flow.

"Try something new every season. How about a new annual or a new spring-blooming bulb? Who knows--it may become your all-time favorite plant."

Some garden to win. For people with a competitive streak, gardening is a friendly way to show off their skills, Smith said.

"4-H clubs promote gardening, offering educational opportunities for kids and a healthy avenue for recognition," she added.

Others garden to fulfill emotional needs.

"Gardens play an important part in our well-being," she noted. "A garden might serve as a tranquil retreat or private escape from the demands of everyday life. A beautiful bouquet can lift the spirits. Pulling weeds can be a great stress reliever. A healthy harvest provides a sense of achievement and feelings of success. Gardening builds confidence and self-esteem."

Finally, lasting memories provide an attraction for some gardeners.

"Gardening is an activity that can be shared with children and grandchildren--the gardeners of tomorrow," said Smith. "Memories of past gardens and gardeners are cherished. Today's kids are missing the joy of cutting a bouquet of flowers for their mom or tasting the sweetness of a cherry tomato picked right from the plant in Grandpa's garden.

"Whatever your reasons--get out and garden. Turn off the television and put down that electronic gadget. Don't tell yourself you don't have the time. Find the time and enjoy."

Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, smithma@illinois.edu

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