The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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When was the last time you played in the dirt?

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

When was the last time you played in the dirt? At face value, it's a simple question. Similar to "When was the last time you went to the store?" or "When was the last time you ate at a fast food place?"

When was the last time you played in the dirt? For many of us we grew up hearing (and often ignoring) reproving refrains from the big people, "Don't get your good clothes dirty" and "Don't get dirty before school". Being clean was anti-play. Playtime was all about getting dirty. Playtime was about making mud pies and splashing through mud puddles. Maybe gardening is our socially acceptable pretext to play in the dirt? Six or sixty I still can't wait to get home so I can change into my comfy clothes and play in the dirt.

One of the great joys as a University of Illinois Extension educator is gardening and playing in the dirt with my buddies at the Department of Veterans Affairs Illiana Health System facility (VA) in Danville, Illinois. For over a year now our horticulture team, particularly Jenney Hanrahan our hard-working master gardener program coordinator in Vermilion County along with VA staff has conducted monthly gardening activities with short term and long term residents at the VA.

Most of our gardening revolves around the VA courtyard gardens but making terrariums and tomato tasting also show up on our activity list. I commend the VA staff especially Casey Haugen, Amanda Flesner and Suzi Robinson for their dedication, kindness and professionalism towards the veterans and us as University of Illinois staff and master gardeners.

When we harvest the tomatoes the veterans planted in the raised beds or see how well the carrots grew in the containers, we are all kids again playing in the dirt. It gives me "heart joy" every time a veteran smiles as they discover the delicious fragrance of fresh herbs or a younger veteran compassionately assists an older soldier in planting flowers. Some people give me "heart burn", but my garden buddy veterans always give me "heart joy" whenever we play in the dirt together.

We also hear how joyful views of the gardens ripple through the lives of other VA residents, staff and visitors. Those of us that enjoy getting outside and looking at flowers know the rejuvenating qualities of gardening and nature. Scientific studies back what gardeners know in their hearts.

Recent research from University of Minnesota reveals the importance for seniors. As reported on July 9, 2015 in ScienceDaily. "Everyday access to nature improves quality of life in older adults: Results from a recent study highlight the importance of everyday contact with nature for well-being in later life."

Natural environments are known to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Now research conducted by a University of Minnesota graduate student with a team in Vancouver, B.C., shows that green and "blue" spaces (environments with running or still water) are especially beneficial for healthy aging in seniors."

Published in the journal Health and Place, the study -Therapeutic landscapes and wellbeing in later life: Impacts of blue and green spaces for older adults--demonstrates that by incorporating smaller features, such as a koi pond or a bench with a view of flowers, public health and urban development strategies can optimize nature as a health resource for older adults. Accessibility to everyday green and blue spaces encourages seniors to simply get out the door. This in turn motivates them to be active physically, spiritually and socially, which can offset chronic illness, disability and isolation.

A recommendation from the study - prioritize everyday contact with nature -- sitting in a park, listening to a water fountain, or looking at potted plants on a windowsill. I would add - playing in the dirt with your garden buddies.

Thanks to University of Minnesota for sharing with ScienceDaily, 9 July 2015. Every Day Access to Nature.

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