Getting Your Hands Dirty

There are two things I miss tremendously since leaving our old home behind to build a new one here in Austin: my dear friends and my garden. Unfortunately, short of convincing all of my friends to follow me here (believe me, I’ve tried), there is nothing I can do about the former. The lack of a garden, however, I plan to remedy in the spring. I am a relatively new inductee into the world of avid gardening (you can read about how I began my journey here), but when I first decided to enter that world, I jumped in with both feet. With my own two hands, I built a raised-bed garden complete with four beds set into a hill, gravel walkways, and handmade trellises.

garden progress - 31

I was SO proud of it! I told my husband that I didn’t think I had created anything so beautiful since I created our sons. I’m not sure he ever fully understood my passion for it, but there is something about getting my hands in the ground – building, planting, nurturing – that is so centering for me. I discovered that being close to the earth and helping things grow is meditative and enriching.

And, of course, I am not alone. Even a cursory sweeping of the internet will show you the myriad benefits of getting our hands dirty. Here are just a few snippets I found:

  • A new study confirms that people who garden are less likely to display signs associated with unhappiness or depression. It found 80% of gardeners feel satisfied with their lives compared with 67% for non-gardeners, and 93% of gardeners think gardening improves their mood.
  • In a study by Bristol University, Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae, a “friendly” bacteria found in soil, was shown to activate a group of neurons that produce the brain chemical serotonin, enhancing feelings of well-being, much in the same manner as antidepressant drugs and exercise. Interest in the study arose when patients treated with M. vaccae for another health issue reported increases in their quality of life (Lowry, 2007)
  • Beyond raising mood, time kids spend in the dirt may be the best preparation for the classroom, according to researchers at The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York. Creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.” (Science Daily, 2010)
  • Dr. Mary Ruebush, immunologist and author of ‘Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends’, counts letting kids play in the dirt as immune-system-building step number one. “Let your child be a child,” she says. “Dirt is good. If your child isn’t coming in dirty every day, they’re not doing their job. They’re not building their immunological army. So it’s terribly important.” (CBS News, 2009)
  • Making direct contact with soil, whether through gardening, digging for worms, or making mud pies has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and facilitate learning. – ‘The Dirt on Dirt’ by the National Wildlife Federation

Although I have not had a chance to build my new garden yet, last weekend I was able to get out into our yard to rebuild some existing corner beds and create a small patio area for our new fire pit. These simple acts of hard, dirty work rekindled my desire to consistently connect to the earth – even if it’s just our little backyard patch of it.


Rest assured, there will be pictures of my brand new Austin garden coming soon. Until then, get outside and get your hands dirty. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.