6 Health Benefits of Gardening for Veterans
Gardening can be therapeutic for anyone - but especially those with trauma.
Gardening can be a great outlet for veterans - in 2019 the United States Department of Veterans Affairs published an article, The Health Benefits of Gardening for Veterans, which concluded that “Veterans in Boston are finding that horticultural therapy can help improve their health, alongside their medical treatments.”
While nobody should be boxed into a certain demographic based on stereotypes, the mental health of veterans has been getting more and more discourse and attention in recent years.
Many veterans struggle with addiction, depression, and anxiety as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced. Gardening is being studied as a means to help veterans (and others) heal from past trauma and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Keep reading to dive deeper into the physical and emotional health benefits of gardening, as well as how to get involved with local veterans gardening groups.
6 health benefits gardening holds for veterans
Gardening is, without doubt, one of the healthiest hobbies anyone can enjoy—whether or not you’re a veteran. Many of the positive effects of gardening are both physical and psychological, improving mental and bodily health at the same time.
1. Eating a healthier diet
People who grow edible gardens tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, across the board. Growing food in your backyard (or wherever you garden) is so much more convenient than buying produce at a grocery store, so you always have fresh produce on hand when you need it. We’re also more inclined to eat and enjoy the fruits of our labor when we worked so hard for them!
Not only do vegetables and fruits contain vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to operate at their peak, but certain vegetables—especially leafy greens like spinach—have mood-boosting properties, too!
Bell peppers and tomatoes are just a couple of fruits that are rich in vitamin C, which has been linked to improved mood and cognitive function. Brassicas—think cabbage, brussels sprouts, and broccoli—are also rich in this essential vitamin.
2. Opportunities for physical exercise
If you know, you know—gardening is a workout! Physical exercise is critical to our overall health and mood. If lifting weights or running on treadmills isn’t your thing, try gardening. Gardening requires a lot of movement, from lifting heavy bags of soil to bending over to pull weeds, to dragging a water hose around.
An article by the National Institutes for Health makes the claim that “the aerobic exercise that is involved can easily use the same number of calories as might be expended in a gym. Digging, raking and mowing are particularly calorie intense.” It’s hard not to break a sweat in the garden, and it’s an accessible way to build strength and move your body. Plus, it’s way more fun than going to the gym.
3. Protecting heart health by lowering blood pressure
Exercise has a lot of benefits, but one of the most prominent is lowering blood pressure. Folks who have high blood pressure may struggle if exercise causes them stress—fortunately, gardening is a means of exercise that simultaneously reduces stress and high blood pressure.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute lists “gardening” and “raking leaves” for half an hour as a sufficient means of exercise to help reduce blood pressure. Gardening several times a week is enough of a lifestyle change to lower high blood pressure and take back your heart health.
4. Promoting bone health with vitamin D
Sunlight encourages the body’s production of vitamin D, an essential vitamin for the absorption of calcium. Calcium is an important mineral for bone health.
Of course, harmful UV rays can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, so use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above if you plan to be outside for more than a few minutes, and reapply every two hours. Alternatively, wear long sleeves and a wide-brim hat to minimize your exposure to harmful UV rays.
Lower levels of vitamin D have been linked to higher instances of depression, so soaking up some sun in the garden has the added benefit of improving mental health.
5. Boosting overall happiness
Science proves that humans are happier around plants and nature in general. Gardening is a great avenue to connect with nature by cultivating plants for sustenance or simply for beauty. Studies show that spending time in the garden—whether planting, harvesting, watering, or simply sitting—significantly lowers stress and anxiety.
6. Fostering community
Gardening is a great way to connect with other people in your community, especially if you get involved with a community garden or a veterans gardening group.
Heroic Gardens and Growing Veterans are two organizations with a mission to improve the lives of veterans through gardening. You can also find local veterans gardening groups through the VA.
Planting a patriotic memory garden in a veteran’s honor
One way to pay tribute to veterans is by planting a memory garden. Intentionally designed with a deceased loved one in mind, a memory garden can have patriotic overtones or may feature the favorite flowers and vegetables of the veteran it honors.
Nothing is more fitting for a veteran than a patriotic garden to honor a veteran’s support for their country. With so many red, white, and blue blooms to choose from, designing an Americana garden is easy. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Great Red Oriental Poppy
Red poppies are the flower of remembrance and are commonly associated with fallen soldiers and worn on Memorial Day. In countries that honor Armistice Day on November 11, red poppies (whether fake or real) are worn to remember the lives lost in World War II.
Big Red Hybrid Geranium
Another flower with ties to Memorial Day and remembrance of those who lost their lives in service, red geraniums represent blood lost. These bedding annuals require very little maintenance to look fabulous all season long.
Italian White Sunflower
Plant these stunning white sunflowers in your patriotic garden, as they represent the faith and devotion that veterans have towards their country and families.
A hardy herb, chamomile is symbolic of peace, joy, and rest—fitting for a garden honoring veterans. The delicate white, daisy-like blooms have a sweet fragrance and medicinal properties, so as you harvest and use chamomile you will feel even closer to your lost loved one.
Carpet of Snow Alyssum
Delicate and airy, this pure-white variety of sweet alyssum brings reverence to any space. Tiny florets release a honey-like fragrance that draws bees and other pollinators, ensuring your garden will always be teeming with life.
Hybrid Easy Wave Blue Spreading Petunia
It’s hard to match the deeply beautiful “Old Glory Blue” of the American Flag with a corresponding blue hue in nature, but this indigo-colored petunia comes close. The large funnel-shaped blooms have a mounded and trailing growing habit—an ideal variety for hanging baskets or containers.
Victoria Blue Salvia
Salvia, the more ornamental cousin of garden sage, signifies health and healing, so it’s a great addition to a veterans garden. This fragrant perennial is easy to care for and pollinators love it!
Arguably more purple than true blue, lavender is still a worthwhile addition to a veterans garden, since its sweet fragrance is a common folk remedy for easing anxiety and stress.
Similar in appearance to Texas bluebonnets, these blue blooms are symbolic of inner strength and loving admiration. A hardy perennial, lupins will return year after year, gracing the landscape with beautiful blue and gold-tinted flower spikes, an everlasting medal of service for your loved one.
Veterans themselves may find that gardening as a hobby can enrich their lives by improving their overall physical and mental health. Trauma experienced during wartime is very real and sometimes disabling—but connecting with nature and other people through gardening provides an opportunity to heal past scars and cultivate a happier future.
While we tend to remember veterans most prominently on the two key holidays of Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the other 363 days of the year are also appropriate to honor those who have served. Shop the Seeds 'N Such online store to find the perfect patriotic flowers and other plants to show your support.