Gardening: the kinder, gentler addiction? Maybe.


Waiting for the real green

Russell Brand is the latest celeb to turn to gardening as part of his new, dull life. No more sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “Now I'm a bloody good gardener,” the Forgetting Sarah Marshall star says. According to the same Brit music rag, Amy Winehouse, as well, finds that pruning hedges—for hours—is soothing and theraputic. And a rock band whose name I know, but whose music I can no longer recall—the Stone Temple Pilots—claim to have conquered drugs through gardening and crocheting.

They all used to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but no longer—thanks to gardening. It’s nothing new. Gardening therapy has existed for centuries, maybe even for millennia. It has been used for melancholia, shellshock, fibromyalgia, memory loss, and—as in these cases—addiction. The American Horticultural  Therapy Association attributes the beneficial aspects of gardening to the activity itself—the simple, nurturing qualities of it—or merely the peaceful surroundings of a garden. And I suppose many would say it’s because dirt itself makes you feel better, citing studies like this one (as we’ve noted in the past).

But there’s a dark side to all this. Benign as it might be, gardening therapy has been withdrawn from most of us for the last 4 months. And unlike rock stars, we can’t simply fly to a place where gardening is still possible. Sublimations abound—to the usual ones like catalog browsing, house plants, attending gardening shows, and reading gardening books, I’ve added obsessive bulb forcing—but it’s growing thin. Maybe Brand, Winehouse and the STPs can send over some of their leftover drugs. Just enough to last me until mid-April, when I can start pruning the rose bushes and starting my summer bulbs.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I hear ya, sister. Since the weather turned nice here about two weeks ago, I’ve had a total relapse. I’m out in the garden almost every day, feeding the addiction.

  2. Love the manicure – it does give a whole new meaning to the term “green fingers”! As far as Russell Brand and Amy Winehouse go, my guess is that the only reason they’re gardening is to grow their own drugs and save some money…….which, given the winter we’ve had (and that’s still hanging on tightly), is an idea with some merit.

  3. It may be therapeutic once the season gets here, but in the mean time March makes me insane. Seriously insane. (and I don’t mean to make light of people with depression or other mental illnesses) It is like Christmas is coming, but you don’t quite know when. I can’t sleep. I’m out in the garden digging with sticks, trying to find sleeping leaves that are getting ready to pop up. I have anxiety attacks, or maybe overexcited attacks, I don’t know, but it isn’t pleasant, and it really doesn’t go away until the daffodils are well under way. I have snowdrops and hellebore, but that isn’t enough to get the shakes gone. Thank God I don’t have other addictions.

  4. There definitely could be worse addictions than gardening. At least it doesn’t become harmful to other people…except perhaps the neighbor’s kids who don’t respect my personal space.

    It can be an expensive addition too, but at least you have something to show for it.

  5. We got a wee bit of snow last night. Luckily we have new baby goats to keep my mind off the gardening I’m not doing.

  6. As Traci DiSabato-Aust says: nailpolish is a great way to hide the dirt! Up here in western, NY, I’ve had to embrace houseplants (if you want to get fancy, call it “interiorscaping”) to keep my gardening addictions under control (Dr. Drew: Take note!) So I’ve turned to container plants that can be moved indoors when the cold weather comes – and stays. My Festival Burgundy cordyline – planted next to some tropical crotons and bromeliads – gives me a fix to at least take the edge off!

  7. It’s been in the teens here at night, but we’ve got eranthis, snowdrops, crocus, and iris blooming; daffs aren’t far behind.

    I will make it though March and April by starting seeds indoors. Although watching the dirt for 10 days until the cotyledons pop up is absolute agony…

  8. I am jonesing too, Elizabeth. It’s really bad this year. I have to say I love the artistry in Brand’s wit and Winehouse’s voice so they will probably be wonderful gardeners. Now if we could get that brilliant bad boy Pete Doherty on board.

    Possible slogans:

    There’s a new drug in town–gardening.

    Gardening–the only drug it’s good to be hooked on.


  9. Oh, man, now the secret’s out, anti-gardening legislation’s sure to follow….sign me up for my “medical gardening” card!

  10. After an exceptionally cold & wet winter (including getting most of our yearly rainfall average in the last 2 weeks) I’m with Anne – where do I get that “medical gardening” card ?

  11. Oh yes, starting seeds. I started some jack-in-the-pulpit seeds….last fall. Put in the fridge for months, then left them in their wet papertowel on the counter for a month. Finally they sprouted!!!! Now they keep me company at the kitchen table during meals. They are directly beside my placemat. I’m sure that they are suffering performance anxiety. There are leaves that are going to unfurl at any second!

  12. Books are drugs. Winter is about reading, re-energizing the spirit and giving the muscles a break. I find it wonderfully balancing over the course of four seasons. I’m not really ready to garden yet, I still want to read. The reading gets me ready for gardening, like lots and lots and lots of foreplay–sure, you want to, ahem, but you know if you do all the shazam will soon fizzle.

  13. Consider moving to New Orleans where gardening is possible nearly year round. Currently my tiny streetcorner is producing: strawberries, tomatoes, peas and possibly limes quite soon. 2 types of honeysuckle, jasmine, mahonia, daisies, irises – so much in bloom and they’ve been going since early March.

  14. Thanks for making my day as I look out the window with temps in the low teens and still much snow. But I did see a bit of tulips leaves emerging! Oh and I have to get that dormant peony plant out of my vegetable crisper and temporarily pot it up now as its been there since February.

  15. I added chickens to the mix. You get to take care of them all winter, feeding them, watering them, cleaning the coop, gathering eggs, trying to figure out what to do with all those eggs.

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