Home gardener Lori Basheda has planted 15 flower gardens in her yard over the years.

Plant your way to good health this spring

by LORI BASHEDA

Home gardening not only attracts birds, bees and butterflies, it keeps you healthy, according to research by the journal Neuroscience and others.

Twenty years ago, I planted my very first flower garden. Now I have 15. They’re scattered around my yard, squeezed into every corner and lining my picket fence. Pretty much every day of the year I wander outside and snip whatever is in bloom to bring inside for vases on my kitchen table and bedroom dresser. Sometimes I make bouquets to bring to friends in jelly jars.

I also plant herbs here and there, especially dill and fennel, to attract the butterflies. Bees love my roses. And hummingbirds buzz in and out of an orange bells bush all day long.

But flowers and wildlife aren’t the only benefits of gardening. It’s good for your health. Digging, pruning and planting is a workout, so it will keep you fit. But it also has been shown to lower stress.

According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience, there is evidence that a bacterium found in soil actually stimulates serotonin production, acting as a natural antidepressant. The theory is that just inhaling dirt can actually calm your nerves and boost your mood.

There is even some evidence that gardening might help you live longer.

National Geographic fellow and best-selling author Dan Buettner has identified five places on Earth where folks are living way longer than average (he calls them Blue Zones). One of the common threads: gardening.

So if you have ever had a hankering to dig up a piece of your lawn, do it. May is the perfect month. With the weather warming up, whatever you plop in the earth should flourish.

The key is in the dirt. As you dig (I like to go about a foot deep), throw out any sand or hard clay, and replace it with rich compost from a nursery. You can also find raised-bed kits (no tools required) at Home Depot and Lowe’s and then fill them with bagged dirt.

It’s also important to note how much sun your garden space gets and buy only plants that will succeed in those conditions. A sunny space (at least six hours of sun a day) is easier to tend.

There are dozens of colorful flowers to choose from right now. Some of my favorites include cosmos, coreopsis, verbena, sunflowers, marigolds, coneflowers, zinnias, lavender, every kind of herb (even if you don’t eat them, they’re pretty and attract butterflies), and even roses if you have the space. I also put in a few tomato plants every summer. They are easy to grow and should give you fruit by August.

So good luck! Happy digging, pruning and planting.

Lori Basheda is a freelance journalist and full-time home gardener.