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Think Garden. It's a Great Break from Winter!

By Julie Weisenhorn, University of Minnesota Extension

As a native Minnesotan, I try my best to enjoy all four seasons to their fullest. This means bundling up and getting out in the snow on skis or walking with my dog Nikki to experience winter in all its glory. The more snow, the better!

When I come in from the cold, I have an excuse to pour a cup of tea and curl up with a stack of seed and plant
catalogues and plan my garden for the upcoming year. And I am not alone. According to research that the National Gardening Association conducted in 2009, an estimated 43 million households in the United States planned to grow their own fruits, berries, herbs, and vegetables. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were over 45 years of age (Butterfield, 2009). There’s no doubt that eating better — fresh fruits and vegetables from a home garden — can boost your overall health and well-being. In fact, there are many benefits of gardening for your mind, body, and spirit.

Exercising in the Great Outdoors

According to Gardening for Exercise by Sherry Rindels of Iowa State University, gardening and lawn work can provide moderate to intense exercise and can work and stretch the muscles throughout your body. Likewise, the work will improve your muscle strength and endurance due to the resistance involved. (Okay, there’s one good thing about clay soils.) And, for those of us needing to shed a few pounds, gardening can help you burn some calories (Rindels, 1993).

Building Community … in your Community!

Gardening can be a solitary, almost meditative activity. I routinely get lost in my garden by focusing on the minute details — smelling the soil, pruning the hydrangeas, determining the perfect spot for Blue Heaven™ ornamental grass, or examining rose buds for aphids. Gardening, however, is also a social activity. Sharing tools, splitting hostas, finding homes for those enormous zucchinis, and walking through a friend’s garden are all good activities and build community within neighborhoods and community gardens. Likewise, garden oriented associations, societies, and clubs give you the opportunity to spread the word about gardening and to help others get involved. As state director of the Master Gardener Program at the University of Minnesota Extension, I have the opportunity to get to know people from all over Minnesota, of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds. Our volunteers range in age from 20 to 94 and live in all parts of the state. Over its 33- year history, UMN Extension’s master gardener volunteers have helped millions of Minnesotans learn to garden and have built a community of gardeners throughout the state. To learn more about the Master Gardener Program, visit our website at www.mg.umn.edu or call our state offce on the University’s St. Paul campus at 612-625-4211.

Make a Positive Impact on your Environment

Minnesotans have an inherent love of the natural world, and it’s our duty to do our best to protect it and make a positive impact on the world around us. We all need to be stewards of the earth and to protect the health of our precious environment. As gardeners, we can practice sustainable techniques on our own garden: creating healthy soil, selecting the proper plants, using good mowing techniques, and caring for trees and shrubs. A sustainable landscape is one that emphasizes plant health and longevity. Proper soil preparation and putting the right plant in the right place for the right purpose help your garden thrive and minimize your footprint on the natural environment. For more information on design of sustainable landscapes, visit the Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series website at the University of Minnesota.

A Sense of Personal Accomplishment and Hope

Gardens can give you a sense of accomplishment whether you solve an issue with a disease, find the perfect plant (or finally remove a real loser), or make a salad from greens grown in your own garden. Sharing gardening information and helping others is also satisfying. If asked, I think my colleagues and I would note that sharing and helping are two of the reasons that we enjoy our jobs in Extension/Horticulture so much. Gardening gives us hope. Yes, we have some pretty unpredictable weather, and some of it can be brutal, but we also have four distinct seasons and all the great things that happen to our natural world during the transitions. The day that you get on your boots and start nosing around your garden and seeing the crocuses that you planted last fall poking their resilient purple and yellow blossoms through the melting snow brings joy to your heart, a sense of new life in a cold wintry landscape, and the reassurance that a new spring in Minnesota is just around the corner.

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