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As winter shrugs off her dreary gray coat and the sun starts warming the earth, I can’t resist the urge to head out to the garden and get my hands dirty. Whether your outdoor space is an expansive yard or just a few pots on the terrace, growing things is good for you. Spending time outdoors lifts our spirits and awakens our senses. Studies show that time spent in nature has many positive benefits including reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Connecting with the natural world is a wonderful antidote for too much time spent in isolation or cooped up indoors. Additionally, gardening is good physical exercise and growing your own food encourages healthy eating.

Head out into your own garden or a public green space and take a deep breath. After a few minutes you may notice that you feel calmer. The Japanese word Shinrin-yoku, which is translated as forest bathing, is a form of therapy in which people interact with nature in a meaningful way. Its focus is on slowing down, being mindful and fully engaging your senses in the present moment. It is not limited to just forests but can be practiced anywhere there are trees. Nature therapy has its roots in many cultures and is gaining in popularity as we spend more and more of our time indoors. Numerous scientific studies have measured positive effects such as lower blood pressure, a strengthened immune system and a reduction in anxiety. I know from personal experience that spending time in the garden just makes me feel better! 

Gardening is a great way to exercise as well. All that bending, stretching, deep squats and reaching loosen up our joints and get our circulation moving. It increases our exposure to Vitamin D, which is necessary for strong bones. Gardening burns calories, improves flexibility and has cardiovascular benefits as well.  

It’s also immensely satisfying to grow your own food and flowers and share your bounty with family and friends. Food grown in your own garden can be free of pesticides and provide a much greater variety than what is available in the supermarket. I love observing close-up the miraculous transformation that takes place from tiny seeds to small sprouts to productive plants to my dinner plate. I feel connected to the cycle of the seasons. Neighbors drop by to see what is growing, and we all love eating the fruits of our labors. There is nothing tastier than a home-grown tomato fresh from the vine!

During the early days of the pandemic when nothing felt normal, I spent a lot of time in our vegetable garden. There, the wonderful scents of herbs, the colorful flowers and budding vegetables were life-affirming. I felt grounded listening to the birds, watching insects and noting the small changes that happened each day. I began making simple sketches of the plants and adding watercolors. After completing a few of these, I thought perhaps I could bind them into a story of sorts for my grandchildren. The seeds of an idea were planted. I brought radishes, roses and other vegetables into my studio to paint at night. My stack of paintings grew as spring turned into summer. Before long, my little project had blossomed into a published hardback book. In Papa’s Garden is a colorful alphabet book that teaches gardeners of all ages about respecting the balance of nature. Creating this book brought me so much joy, and I am excited to share it with garden lovers young and old.

Written by: Laurie Eager

Laurie Eager is the author and illustrator of In Papa’s Garden. A seeker of beauty every day, she works part time as an interior designer, loves adventure travel, all things French and dark chocolate. She lives in Stockton with her husband, Steve, and can be found most mornings enjoying a cup of coffee and the first rays of sunshine in their abundant vegetable garden.