Mindful Gardening For Beginners - What is Mindful Gardening?

I'm not sure about you, but the last few years have been a challenging and stressful time for me. I saw a meme not too long ago about in 2022 hoping for just non-existential crises and couldn't help but have a little chuckle.

In many ways it has felt like a perfect storm of global uncertainty colliding with our attention going in more directions than ever, that has left me feeling quite depleted and exhausted at times.

Fortunately, many years earlier I discovered something truly amazing and restorative.

Mindful Gardening. 

The garden for me is so much more than fertile soil. It's a sanctuary.  A place that I can go to rest and recharge my batteries.

Today, I'm going to share with you how to begin Mindfully Gardening and turn your garden into a sanctuary of your own.

Are we more stressed than ever?

Just a few years ago, the Royal Horticulture Society and a few partner Universities embarked on a study to determine whether or not gardening is a mindfulness activity and what impact it has on our mental wellbeing.

To begin this study, they needed to establish a benchmark. 

How stressed were the participants at the beginning of the study?

Well, the news isn't great. At the beginning of the study, they found that only 24% had healthy cortisol patterns. Cortisol is more commonly known as our 'stress hormone' and as such the majority of the participants were living with unhealthy stress patterns.

That's certainly something I know I can relate to. 

What happens when we step into the garden? 

Over the course of a year, the Royal Horticulture Society gave a portion of the participants a range of plants and flowers to have their very own garden. Simultaneously, they continued to test and measure the cortisol levels.

Was the exposure to gardening having a positive impact on their cortisol (stress) levels?

At the conclusion of the study, the Royal Horticulture Society discovered something truly remarkable.

Over the course of the year, the number of participants that displayed healthy cortisol levels climbed from 24% to 53%!

More than double - Remarkable!

Discovering this study and its findings was such an A-Ha moment for myself as it really put the science behind what myself and so many other Mindful Gardeners have innately felt and experienced.
A picture of Jordan from Mind & Soil's (Mind and Soil) Mindful Garden where he practices Mindful Gardening

The Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) found in a year long study that exposure to gardening increased healthy cortisol level among respondents from 24% to 53%. 

What do I need to begin Mindful Gardening?

The beauty of Mindful Gardening is that the focus is not on maximizing a harvest but rather on intentionally practicing slowing down and coming into the present moment.

As a result, it's truly the most accessible form of gardening.

Most individuals will begin by starting outside with a patio or backyard space - however, even that isn't necessary!

We have individuals in our community that are craving that sense of peacefulness, calmness, and restoration and as a result have setup an indoor Mindful Garden with simply a Grow Light, some Worm Casting Seedling Mix and some seeds to kick it off! 

Whether it's indoor or outdoor, containers or raised beds, the principles of Mindful Gardening apply to both and the practice of Mindful Gardening can truly be carried out in either environment.

How do I start Mindfully Gardening?

As we begin to think about gardening as a mindfulness practice, it's worthwhile aligning on exactly what Mindfulness is. I really like how the folks at Headspace put it: 

Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.

The garden provides the perfect canvas to become fully engaged in the present moment - and the way I love to do this is by activating my 5 senses:

  • Hearing: How can I use my sense of hearing to become fully engaged in the present moment? 
  • Touch: How can I use my sense of touch to become fully engaged in the present moment? 
  • Smell: How can I use my sense of smell to become fully engaged in the present moment? 
  • Sight: How can I use my sense of sight to become fully engaged in the present moment?
  • Taste: How can I use my sense of taste to become fully engaged in the present moment?

Mind & Soil Infographic that outlines Mindful Gardening

Now, let's wrap up by going through a technique for activating each sense so you can begin to put them into practice. 

Mindful Gardening Technique #1: Hearing

As you step into the garden to begin your Mindful Gardening, take a minute or two to slow down and Listen.

Take a seat and close your eyes, putting all your attention towards Hearing.

Over the course of 2-3 minutes count how many unique sounds you can hear.

The car driving along the street. The kids playing at a house a few doors down. The birds chirping in the trees.

And then more subtly, the river gently flowing a few blocks away. The wind whispering through the trees. 

How many sounds do you hear? 

Picture of Natalie practicing Mindful Gardening by activating her sense of listening at Mind & Soil's community picnic

Mindful Gardening Technique #2: Touch

After a few minutes of simply listening, turn your attention to Touch.

Spend a few minutes walking through the garden barefoot feeling the earth beneath your feet. 

Make your way over to one of your plants and run your hands through the soil at its base. 

Is it warm? Cool? How moist does it feel? How much life might be resting in your hands? 

Picture of Kyle at Mind & Soil's (Mind and Soil) community picnic getting her hands dirty practicing Mindful Gardening

Mindful Gardening Technique #3: Smell

Releasing the soil from your hands, turn your attention to the plant in front of you.

Gently rub its leaves between your fingers. What do you smell?

Move your face right close to within an inch or two of the plant, close your eyes, and take as deep of a breathe as you can. Repeat the process a few times feeling yourself fully immersed in the garden and the moment. 

Picture of Mandy at Mind & Soil (Mind and Soil) community picnic smelling a flower and practicing Mindful Gardening

Mindful Gardening Technique #4: Sight

As you open your eyes, focus on the plant in front of you. With so much to see throughout the garden, take this opportunity to zoom into the intricacy of the plant in front of you.

What colours does it present? What subtleties do you observe with its veins and leaf textures? Are there any critters hiding beneath the leaves or at the base of the plant in the soil? 

Picture of Leah at Mind & Soil (Mind and Soil) community picnic using Sight to practice Mindful Gardening

Mindful Gardening Technique #5: Taste

And to begin wrapping up a few minutes of Mindful Gardening, allow yourself to activate your sense of taste by tasting the plant (if it's edible!).

Gently pull off a leaf, flower or fruit, and slowly enjoy its flavour. Make your way to another plant to repeat the process and notice the difference between the two.

What was pleasing to the palette? What was surprising? 

Picture of Jordan from Mind & Soil (Mind and Soil) activating his sense of taste while Mindfully Gardening

How do you feel after Mindful Gardening?

As you emerge from activating your senses, how do you feel?

This practice of activating the different senses is exactly how I love to start my time in the garden. After a few minutes of slowing down to intentionally listen, touch, smell, see, and taste, I find my nervous system in a much calmer state than even a few minutes earlier.

At this point I generally get to the gardening tasks that I might have had on hand for that day - perhaps some transplanting with Worm Castings and our 4-4-4 Superfood, perhaps some trellis and pruning, or perhaps just a little weeding while my mind decompresses on the day that was!

I deeply hope that this has helped you begin to practice Mindful Gardening and find more peace, joy, and restoration in your life.