For the last 10 years, retired high court judge R.S. Sodhi has been taking off on weekends from the bustle of Delhi to his farm in Mandi village, on the outskirts of the city. There Sodhi, whose career was marked by the Red Fort shoot-out case and those of Jessica Lall, Naina Sahni and Priyadarshini Mattoo, talks to flowers and fruit-laden trees. He also mows the lawn and plants corn and wheat. “Gardening puts me in touch with myself,” he says.
Says Rakhi Anand, consultant psychologist, Apollo Hospital, Delhi, “Gardening is different from other stress busters as it directly involves nature and colours.” Besides, it has very real, practical health benefits.
Most gardening takes place outdoors, where the air generally has less carbon dioxide and volatile organic chemicals, bio-effluents and airborne bacteria than our air-conditioned homes. In 1994, Martina Giese and others pointed out in ‘Detoxification of formaldehyde by the spider plant’, published in the journal Plant Physiology, that plants convert chemicals such as formaldehyde (dangerous to humans) into sugars and amino acids. Formaldehyde is found in adhesives, carpeting, paper towels, paints, plywood and other boards, varnish and tobacco, among other household regulars.
Sunny and bright
Sunlight lifts your mood, besides pumping in vitamin D. And growing a garden offers colour therapy too. “Natural colours elevate our mood,” says Anand.
Dig right in...
You won’t believe the joy of muddying your hands unless you get down to some hands-on gardening (see ‘Play’, below left). Studies also assure us that just 20 minutes of any kind of physical activity can get all the right hormones coursing, keeping you physically and psychologically robust. Gardening can be just the activity, right across the health and fitness spectrum. You can choose how involved you want to get. It can be as sedentary as pruning the bougainvillea or as energetic as New Delhi-based marketing executive Prakash Agarwal’s morning routine of mowing the lawn, raking the leaves and composting them (for more on the fitness benefits of gardening, see ‘Surf’, bottom left).
...and breathe deeply
Gardening is the original aromatherapy. No one may have bottled the fragrance of the earth (though many Indians know of a traditional attar called geeli mitti, or ‘wet earth’), but gardeners will vouch for its calming effect. Instead of using oils from dead flowers, gardening gives you true aromatherapy to beat stress and delay disease and ageing.
Also, the oxygen given out by plants during the day leaves you calm. University of Wisconsin horticulture educator Patti Nagai believes some potted plants around the place can make you calmer, reduce blood pressure and relax muscles.
Sodhi has the last word, “You can share all your secrets with plants.” He did, especially when he was a judge. A secret shared, they say, is stress halved. Reason enough to hug a plant.
Five tips for green fingers
1. New to gardening? Before you dig and sow, check your local nursery for plants that make you smile. Succulents, roses, indoor plants or flowers? Browse thoroughly before you buy.
2. Find out exactly what conditions your chosen plant will thrive in. Planting it near the west wall rather than the east or near a shady tree rather than beside the gate can make all the difference between blooming success and death by wet rot.
3. Pace yourself. Begin with just a few plants. Keep your gardening activity levels low until you know how much your body can take. Gardening should take away from, not add to, your stress.
4. Take care out there. Watch out for foreign objects such as glass and metal hiding in the grass or lurking in the soil. Gloves can protect your hands, but they do take away from that calming tactile experience.
5. Scrub your hands thoroughly after gardening to get rid of invisible germs (but also see ‘A Little Dirt is Good for you’ and ‘Play’, left).
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