Gardening for Mental Health: Reducing Anxiety and Depression with Green Activities

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Spending time outdoors is proven to help relieve stress and increase mental wellness. Exposure to soil, sunlight, and nature stimulates the release of neurotransmitters that help to reduce anxiety, depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Put your mental health first and get some self-care in by going out in your backyard and digging in the garden or of a public garden nearby.

gardening for depression and anxiety

Many of us garden-lovers have experienced the powerful positive effects of gardening on our own mental health. In everything we do here at Garden Therapy, we touch on living better through plants. We truly believe in nature?s ability to help us through all different kinds of hard times. Mental health is no joke and you will have certainly been touched in some way by anxiety, depression, or PTSD through your own experiences or those of family and friends.

Gardener extraordinaire Shawna Coronado is here to tell us more forgarden about the science of how spending time in the garden can improve mental wellness. To learn more about therapeutic gardening for both physical and mental health, be sure to check out Shawna?s wonderful book Read on to understand the science behind why strolling through a meadow can boost your mood greatly and why gardening for mental health is so worthwhile.

Reducing Anxiety and Depression with Green Activities

By Shawna Coronado

A therapeutic garden is defined as a space where you can accomplish gardening and green activities which specifically address a person?s psychological, spiritual, physical, and social needs. Therapeutic gardening doesn?t have to take place in a traditional garden space: it can occur in many outdoor landscaped areas, green spaces, and even through activities which can be accomplished in a public garden or open park expanse.

Gardening with pets

Discovering an outdoor place where you can connect with nature therapeutically while doing green activities can be life changing. These ?green activities? could be as specific as gardening, walking, running, or cycling in nature, or they can be more widely interpreted in environmental conservation work.

Fighting Depression with Brain Neurotransmitters in the Garden 

While we know that the bacterium strain Mycobacterium vaccae has been shown to trigger the release of serotonin when a person has direct skin-to-soil contact, there is also further proof that dopamine levels increase in the brain when we participate in green activities.

engaging with plants boosts mental wellness

Both serotonin and dopamine are pleasure-center neurotransmitters which are associated with happiness, pleasure, and love. Serotonin specifically regulates mood, memory, and impulse. Dopamine is closely tied to euphoria, enjoyment, and motivation. Dopamine is also responsible for those magical feelings of ?falling in love.?

When depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, it is often associated with an insufficient level of dopamine in the brain, so getting your hands dirty and increasing those dopamine and serotonin levels can help to relieve this type of depression.

a field of echinacea

Sunlight and Serotonin

Another proven serotonin stimulator is sunlight. By exercising outdoors in the garden or walking outdoors daily, you are exposing yourself to the daylight spectrum. It is a good practice to expose yourself to daylight without sunglasses for 20 minutes every day.

taking a garden tour for mental health

Dr. David Edelberg, M.D., confirms in his book The Triple Whammy Cure that improving serotonin levels can reduce stress levels. The book, although applicable to most people, focuses on women?s health. Dr. Edelberg states that the more serotonin you have, the better you are able to tolerate all types of extreme stress. He also proposes that women have less serotonin than men do, which makes them more susceptible to stress-related issues in general. He encourages everyone to try daily sunlight exposure.

Sunlight exposure also appears to be an effective treatment for winter-based seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This particular type of depression is related to changes in the seasons, starting as the daylight ebbs in fall and stretching through the season until there is more daylight exposure after winter. SAD saps energy and can make you feel moody and sorrowful. Taking part in green activities outdoors with regular exposure to daylight has a significantly positive effect on the symptoms of SAD.

Heat-tolerant plants that love the sun

There are certain eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, that worsen with exposure to sunlight. If you suspect you have this condition or something similar, please contact your doctor for advice before spending more time in the sunlight. Also, it is very important to wear sunscreen while working outdoors. This is critical even on cloudy days as the sun?s rays are powerful and can easily overwhelm precious skin when least expected.

Engaging with Nature: Get Outside and Get Moving!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistical website, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2005 to 2008 show that antidepressant use has increased significantly: ?About 1 in 10 Americans aged 12 and over takes anti-depressant medication.?

rudbeckia in bloom While there is no doubt that the stigma related to mental illness issues is dissipating, which encourages proper medication when necessary, it becomes critical to learn new ways to reduce pharmaceutical dependency whenever possible.

It is possible to reduce anxiety, depression, and related medication use by increasing green activities and enabling people to find an alternative path to their personal wellness lifestyle.

?Mind? is an organization in the United Kingdom that assists millions of people online to learn how to cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Mind also provides support directly through local chapters and conducts treatment studies through the University of Essex.

Spending time outdoors for mental health

In one such report, ?Ecotherapy?the Green Agenda for Mental Health,? 94 percent of test subjects commented that they felt green exercise had furthered their mental health in a positive way. Additionally, the study stated that participants felt their physical health improved with outdoor walking. Respondents also reported decreased levels of depression and felt less fatigued and tense after walking outside, with increased mood and self-esteem.

In other words, outdoor activities such as gardening and walking can significantly influence your state of mind by triggering dopamine and serotonin levels and by connecting a person?s very soul to the natural outdoor environment.

A Virtual Tour of the New York Botanical Garden

Printed with permission from   by Shawna Coronado, ? 2017. Published by Cool Springs Press. Photography ? Shawna Coronado 2017.

Whether you?re looking to reduce anxiety and depression through gardening or just burn off some excess stress, get outside and get your hands in the dirt!

If you deal with mental illness, we hope that something in this article will be useful to you. Seeking out the help you need, whether by surrounding yourself with nature, confiding in a loved one, or talking to a professional (or all of these!) is an important and brave first step towards healing.

About the Author

Shawna Coronado is an author, columnist, blogger, photographer, and spokesperson for organic gardening, culinary preparation, and green living who campaigns for social good. Shawna?s goal in authoring gardening and green lifestyle books is to promote a world initiative to encourage healthy and sustainable living. Shawna was featured as a Chicago Tribune ?Remarkable Woman? and speaks internationally on building community, simple urban garden living, and green lifestyle tips for the everyday person. Shawna lives in the western suburbs of Chicago where she has a famous front-lawn vegetable garden. You can learn more about her at 

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Herbaceous perennial plants are wonderful because they come back year after year and, for those of us who have distinct seasons, they bloom throughout the year (as opposed to annuals which mainly bloom in the summer months). There are perennials for pretty much every kind of garden you could want, from shade gardens to vegetable beds to herb containers to cutting gardens. No matter what kind of garden you?re growing, it will benefit from the addition of a few (or a whole lot more!) perennials.

the ultimade perennial gardening resource guide

My introduction to perennial gardening was like jumping off a high cliff into a very deep pond. During my crash course in perennial gardening, I learned so much about how to plant, care for, water, divide, and maintain perennials. But first I had to learn what they were!

It started when I was doing . I was looking for ways that I could get involved in the community and garden at the same time and I met a gardener who had a backyard nursery full of perennials that he had divided as part of his garden maintenance work. The nursery was part of a community program that was set up to help people living with addiction gain dignity and purpose through employment working with plants. What his organization really needed was a host to grow the perennials so his employees could divide the perennials and sell them in the nursery.

flowering perennials in the home garden

I was fairly new to gardening at the time and I thought this would be a great way for me to learn about plants while donating my relatively unused sunny front garden to a good cause. I went to work designing garden beds and dug out lawn from more than half of the front yard space.

I was then given 300 unmarked pots of perennials to plant and grow for the year. Each year, I would dig up and divide the plants, pot up the divisions for sale, and replace part of the perennials back into my garden. It was a huge job, but it was one that I was committed to taking on.

The day the plants arrived, I sat on my freshly dug-up front lawn and went into a complete panic! I had absolutely no idea what each of the little green leaves popping out of 1-gallon pots was. There were no labels, no flowers, and no instructions.

black-eyed susans

I?m not one to back away from a challenge and I love to learn through experimentation. So I dusted myself off and planted those 300 pots of perennials.

I cared for them for the remainder of the spring and summer and watched them bloom into daylilies, Echinacea, black-eyed Susans, irises, Joe Pye weed, hostas, Solomon?s seal, Bergenia, Crocosmia, Lychnis, lamb?s ear, Centaurea, bleeding hearts, Astrantia, Japanese windflower, Sedum ?Autumn Joy? and many more flowering plants.

Some grew small and flowered early, some grew tall and flowered throughout the season, and some grew like crazy and took over the entire garden!

perennial garden

And I wouldn?t change any part of that experience.

As the season continued, I was able to see how each plant performed and I wasn?t afraid to dig them up and move them if they weren?t in the right spot. I continued to grow my front yard perennial garden until I moved from that house seven years later. When it was time to plant the garden at my new house, I knew that perennials would be a large part of the garden design.

Perennials in the home garden Over the years, I?ve written a number of articles on perennials based on my experiences growing them. I?ve created a collection of all these articles here in one place as a resource guide. I hope that this gives you some tips for growing your own perennial garden. And I hope you develop a love for perennial gardening just like I did.

Follow these links to learn all about the magic of perennials:

flowering perennial garden


Even More Garden Tips:


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Nothing ruins a summer party more quickly than unwanted guests like mosquitoes and other biting insects! These terracotta pot citronella candles not only keep pests away but they also make a great summer table decoration.

Terracotta citronella candles

The citronella scent sends annoying bugs flying in the opposite direction, so these pretty candles are perfect additions to your outdoor table for summer evenings on the patio that you want to enjoy itch free. Ah, the power of nature.

citronella candles to ward off bugs

These candles are made using real terracotta pots which means they have drainage holes in the bottom that need to be sealed with a material that won?t melt or leak molten wax. Once you?ve done that, the steps to make the candle are the same as any other container candle: melt the wax, add color and fragrance, and pour into a container prepared with a wick.

citronella candles in terracotta pots

The wicks for this project are wider than you would normally use for a container of this diameter. Use a wick that is considered too large for the container to increase the amount of smoke the candle produces. The right size wick will burn a candle all the way to the edges of the container without creating a lot of extra smoke. Because these candles are meant to keep pests away and will be burned outdoors, choose a larger wick than would normally be appropriate.

Makes three 2.5? clay pot candles


  • Three
  • 1 lb (450 g)
  • Three HTP 1312 6? 
  • 1 oz (30 ml) of


  • Paper cup
  • Chopsticks or clothespins

Make it!

Seal up the holes of each of the clay pots by placing a few pieces of electrical tape at the very bottom inside of the pot to cover up the hole.

seal drainage holes

Flip the pot over and fill the hole with silicone sealer. Cut a round of cork sheet into a circle that will fit inside the bottom rim of the pottery. Use a hot glue gun to attach the cork to the bottom of the pot once the silicone has completely dried.

fill drainage hole with silicone sealer

Melt one pound of soy wax flakes in a double boiler and add a thermometer. While the wax is melting, measure the citronella oil and attach the wick to the inner bottom of the clay pot using hot glue.

flowerpot candle supplies

When the melted wax has reached the specified temperature for adding dye or scent oil (i.e.: 160?F?see the instructions that came with your wax), add the citronella oil.

adding citronella oil to wax for candles

Stir well for one full minute to make sure that the oil gets fully mixed into the wax.

combining melted wax and citronella oil

Set the candles in a metal tray to protect your work surface from spills or leaks. Cool the wax to 140?F and pour into each of the three candles ?? from the top.

let candles set with wicks propped

Allow the wax to dry completely untouched in a warm room. When the candles are dry, trim the wicks to ??above the wax.

trim candle wicks

Give it!

A set of three citronella candles set in a in a nest of reindeer moss and chicken wire has the right feel for the outdoors. The basket can be brought out to the entertaining space easily and it makes a thoughtful garden party gift. Not only will these candles light up the night, but they will keep only the desired party guests in attendance.

set of three handmade citronella candles

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