That’s what Judy Toner, who suffers from fibromyalgia and depression, told writer Anne Dempsey in this story in the Irish Independent. Feeling totally without hope after two failed marriages, and in almost constant pain from her illness, which is related to chronic fatigue syndrome, Toner was sleeping 13 hours a day, and finally reached out to a suicide hotline. They talked her down—after hours—and called her back the next day. She told them she was going to try volunteering at a nearby public garden, Airfield, located in south Dublin.
Seven months later, Toner credits her first day of work at Airfield, which features five acres of ornamental plantings, including a highly-regarded walled garden, as the “beginning of the rest of her life.” She further asserts that she is only totally free from pain when she is gardening: digging, raking, and planting.
I’ll take her word that Airfield is a garden worth her daily labor—its website, oddly, is almost devoid of photography of the actual gardens (what little I found is here)—and I’m even more willing to believe that working in the garden has brought equally dramatic psychological and physical benefits. As not only the Washington Post has noted, gardening is great exercise. Writer, artist, and gardener Bruce Adams researched this for Buffalo Spree in 2006 and found a 1993 study by Barbara Ainsworth that rates gardening as providing the same benefit (i.e., same exertion levels) as moderate walking, bicycling, and water aerobics. Except that it’s better, because it’s not as stressful.
Add to this research Amy’s already cited about bacteria in dirt increasing seratonin levels, and Toner’s story seems good anecdotal evidence of the very real benefits of our favorite obsession. Now, if only we could convince those young would-be gardeners. And all the people we know who are still popping Prozac and vowing to get to the gym some day.