Beauty is only the most obvious gardening benefit

May 07, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

THERE IS AN ARC IN THE LIFE of a garden, and it closely parallels the arc in the life of the gardener.

New homeowners spend the first two years feathering the nest, making the kitchen, bedroom and family room look just the way they want them to look.

When they turn their attention outside, they are more likely to focus on the grass than on the gardens.

"They don't care if they don't have the best lawn in the neighborhood," said Tim Key, vice president for consumer research for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. "They just don't want to have the worst."

The idea of designing and maintaining flower beds is intimidating, so a few foundation plants may have to do.

When the kids start arriving, these homeowners will be lucky to get that grass cut. There is no time then to take up landscape design.

How, then, do you convince this group -- aged late 20s to late 30s -- that gardening can do wonders for the sedentary body and the overworked soul?

"They are interested in the appearance benefits of gardening," said Key. So that is a place to start.

This generation of homeowners recognizes that their home may represent their most important investment -- it may even represent their retirement -- and they understand curb appeal. It is not hard to get them to think of gardening as a good investment, especially since research indicates landscaping may add 12 to 15 percent to the value of a home.

And as their children grow, gardening -- some flowers or a few vegetables -- represents something to do with the kids. Or perhaps, when the children become self-sufficient, gardening becomes something the grown-ups can do to decompress, to reconnect with nature.

This generation -- Gen-X -- is more likely to own homes than Baby Boomers were at their age. Yet they have perhaps the lowest participation in gardening activities of any age group.

How do they get started?

"Know your goals," says Diane Relf, a horticulture specialist at Virginia Tech. "Clarify whether you want a few fragrant plants or you want to grow food for your family."

Think small, she says. A sense of control is the key to a satisfying gardening experience. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work involved, you are not likely to adopt it as a restorative activity.

"Get help," said Relf. "It is a sign of maturity."

Find someone to help you plan your gardens -- and someone to help you do the work. By asking your child or a neighborhood teen to help with digging or mulching, you are sharing what you know with the next generation, which then might not be so intimidated by the process when they own their own homes.

"Work smart," she said. Develop the right plan and it will cost you less in time and money.

There is plenty of research to prove that gardening enhances the gardener's life.

Gardening can be physically taxing, but it is honest work. It is challenging but without the stress on the body of aerobics or jogging.

There is also research showing that gardening reduces blood pressure, lessens the anger response and aids in recovery from major illnesses -- and that is true of even when gardening consists of tending a few plants on a balcony, Relf said.

And the results of the gardening effort can be seen, sometimes immediately. That is a source of tremendous satisfaction, but there is also satisfaction for the gardener in knowing he has fulfilled his responsibilities -- not only to his neighbors, but to a higher authority, one who has given us stewardship over the earth.

And finally, Relf advises the new gardener, "Take time to smell the roses."

It is a cliche, but it is also the point.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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