I have been an avid gardener from the time I was a little girl and my dad taught me how to plant vegetable seeds. Our huge yard always had a massive garden where I’d spend hours catching butterflies and eating fresh veggies right off the plant as soon as they were ready. We usually had so many extra tomatoes and zucchini that I’d set up a table in the front yard and sell them for a quarter apiece to neighbors driving by.

My dad is a horticulturist turned molecular biologist who loves the outdoors and has a magical way with plants. Several years ago he started hybridizing daylilies, transforming the yard into a laboratory of color with thousands of original blooms that put on a spectacular show every summer. So needless to say, gardening is in my blood.

When I purchased my first home last year, I began the work of transforming my half acre into a haven for bees and butterflies. I have a long way to go, but the thrill of getting my hands in the dirt remains. Through this year of digging, tilling, planting, and pruning, I am learning so much about the earth and about myself. Gardening is so much more than just the physical act of planting.

Gardening Feeds the Body

When I decided to plant a huge vegetable garden this year, the reasoning behind it was that I wanted to plant varieties of vegetables I enjoy that I couldn’t buy in the store. So I planted several types of tomatoes that never grace the shelves of a supermarket, ronde de nice (round) zucchini, doll baby watermelons, and special varieties of beans and cucumbers that can only be purchased from seed. It wasn’t until everything started growing that I began to understand what a benefit growing your own food can be.

Leah's current harvest_sweet slice cucumber, ronde de nice zucchini, French filet green beans

My most recent harvest: Sweet Slice Cucumbers, Round Zucchini, French Filet Green Beans, Italian Gigante Basil

I love reading healthy living articles, and I can’t even count how many pieces I’ve read recently about how chemicals on store bought produce carry carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, how studies are showing that GMO crops consistently contain less nutrition and have devastating effects on the organs of livestock that eat them. The state of food in our country is sobering. Even when trying to make wise decisions about what to eat, there are many hidden factors beyond our control that could contribute to health problems.

Leah's BeetsI am currently harvesting zucchini, beans, beets, and cucumbers from my garden and I haven’t had to spray one single thing on those plants to make them thrive. I noticed some aphids on the tomato plants the other day, but I also noticed I have a ton of ladybugs on my plants that are natural predators to aphids. There are also many options for natural home remedies that destroy pests on plants, yet do not contaminate the food.

When you plant a garden you control what goes into the food you eat, which means it’s healthier and more nutritious. I’ve been enjoying cooking with the vegetables that are starting to come in. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing the hard work of spring pay off with delicious meals of summer!

Gardening Creates Beauty

Whether your thumb is green or black, gardens can be enjoyed by everyone. An incredibly important aspect to gardening is the fact that every flowered space, every planted field that stretches for miles, every colorful window box brings beauty into the world. This is not to be underestimated in a world of progress that cuts down forests and destroys natural habitats to make way for sprawling cities and industries. In fact, hospitals are beginning to understand the healing power that beautiful spaces have on their patients and are paying high prices to have landscapers develop healing and therapy gardens on their properties. Studies found that even just a few minutes spent in a natural space promoted lowered stress levels and improved recovery times for patients and staff.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art

Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art In Nashville, TN

There are many breathtaking botanical gardens around the country that are privately funded because people see the value of the beauty these places bring to a city. I have been to several large gardens across the country that housed amazing art installations and boasted collections of plants I would never see in this lifetime had I not visited. I like to think of botanical gardens as giant outdoor art museums where Nature is on display!

Gardening Teaches Patient Observance

watching and waiting_Leah's tomatoesThis may seem like an obvious one, but until you get down to the nitty gritty task of ordering seeds, planting them, and fretfully checking on them daily to make sure they’re growing, you never realize how much waiting is involved in gardening. Plants give gentle lessons in patience, whether it’s a flower bud waiting to open or a tomato taking it time to ripen, every day there is anticipation that must be managed.

When I’m down on my knees weeding around tender stems that hold such promise, I am reminded to take pause, to see the value in observance and rest. During the waiting, while nothing seems to be happening, a flower fades into a small fruit, petals start to spring free of a bud. These are times to rest, to wait, to open one’s eyes to that which is rarely seen unless consciously noticed.

Gardening Burns Calories!

Planting is physical! As far as I’m concerned, there is no better workout than getting out in the yard and making the magic happen. Hauling mulch, bending, kneeling, lifting, digging, weeding, mowing, and carrying plants… all of it contributes to some serious calorie obliteration. The Daily Mail recently reported that gardeners can burn up to 19,000 calories a year!

With this kind of labor, it’s always important to practice physical safety, especially for your back and neck. Here are some techniques that can help. And don’t forget, WYSK recently featured Green Heron Tools which are ergonomically crafted for women!

Leah's flower garden

Gardening Helps Friendships Grow

Just being outside opens the door to conversation. I live in a neighborhood where people like to walk and many neighbors have stopped to ask about the garden when I’m outside. This has resulted in seeds shared, plants exchanged, and introductions that might not have happened if I’d been inside watching TV. Sharing extra produce is a great way to make friends too!

I met a local woman who also loves botanical gardens, so we took a couple of trips together to Cheekwood in Nashville, and are trying to plan an adventure to other gardens farther away.

You just never know who might come into your life as the result of a flower!

To marvel at how WYSK’s Lifestyle Contributor Leah LaRocco transformed a run-of-the-mill, 12′ x 18′ patch of grass into her very own flourishing vegetable garden, check out her Garden Happenings: Flowers & Veggies Galore post on her personal blog Edges Like Sea Glass.

Here she is pictured with her lawn mower… the ONLY thing she REALLY wanted for her birthday this past May. Wishes do come true. You grow girl!

Leah and her lawn mower