Bipolar Disorder BPD,  Gardening,  Mental Health

How Gardening Helps My Depression & Anxiety

Tips on Getting Started

Living with bipolar disorder, I get to ride a roller coaster of ups and downs. Since medication entered my life, the ups are more manageable, but we’re still working on figuring out the downs. That’s where therapy comes in.

It was in therapy that I first discovered that trying new things helps me combat depression. So, I’ve tried drawing, reading, journaling, walking, and now gardening. Drawing stresses me out because I am a perfectionist. Reading is fun most of the time, but it can be difficult, depending on the seriousness of the book. Journaling I do every day, but we have a love/hate relationship. Walking is enjoyable, but I am very fair-skinned and have rosacea. Walking outside for too long is not good for me, and I get so bored on a treadmill.

Each has its benefits, but I’ve done most of them before. I wanted something new and engaging. Gardening was the only thing unknown to me. But I was instantly afraid of it. I have a small apartment and an even smaller balcony. Where was I going to begin gardening? Plus, I’m was sure to kill everything or come out as being allergic. Then I might get stung by bees or accidentally set loose a plague. Ok, that last bit was dramatic, but I was scared of gardening.

Looking back, I could not see the possibilities. It took some serious insistence from my therapist and encouragement from my wife. So, I started simply with something called a purple waffle, a pink angel, and some herbs. I tucked them away in adorable planers, and in the best sun, I could manage. They grew, wilted when I forgot to water them and managed to live for a while.

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RIP: Pink Angel & Purple Waffle — Grown by Me (Ash)

I have, regrettably, managed to kill all of those, but that is not the point. I was able to get my hands dirty, watch something grow, and try to care for it. It kept me busy, and I got wrapped up, determined to make something grow. Then I got more, and this time they were succulents. They are all still living almost a year later.

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Some of the Succulents — Grown by Me (Ash)

During that time, I have been able to cultivate a small little garden of several types of plants on my balcony. Now I have about a dozen different kinds of succulents, a beautiful jade tree, a lush elephant bush, a mangy mosquito plant, a feisty rosemary bush, and miscellaneous flowering plants that are always in need of a good dead-heading. We were even able to grow a red hot pepper plant last summer that produced so many peppers that we had to give them away. It was so fulfilling to give away something you were able to grow. I know the plant did all the hard work, but I did see that the nutrients needed to grow. My balcony is my new peaceful place, where I do hard, dirty work and get something back…happiness.

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Elephant Bush — Grown by Me (Ash)

3 Steps To Get Started Gardening

1. Start Simple

If you’ll remember, I did not take my own advice. I launched myself headfirst into the gardening arena. The idea is to lose the stress and strike up interest in the plant.

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Photo by Skyla Design on Unsplash

Try succulents. They are hardy and hard to kill. Plus, succulents need infrequent watering. Look for succulents like aloe, cacti, or jade. You can, however, give herbs a try. Something like mint, catnip, rosemary, or thyme might be a good starter.

Tip: Your local garden center might provide a wealth of knowledge for a beginner. Don’t be afraid to ask.

2. Pick Your Spot

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It is essential to know how much sun your spot will get. Full sun plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Partial sun or partial shade means the plant needs 3–6 hours of direct sun per day. Succulents do great with a lot of sunlight, but others do better in the shade. I’ve got a perky dark mystery plant that loves the shade. Many others do as well. Make sure that you read the labels or do your research before you commit.

Another thing to consider is the space needed to work with your plants. A little tray table works wonders in a tight space. Plus, it can be there for the next best part, enjoying the space. You’ll want to take into account sitting with your plants, maybe grabbing a cup of coffee or tea while you admire your handy work.

Tip: Pay attention to the toxicity of your plants. They might be dangerous to have in your home or for local wildlife.

3. Don’t Overdo It

Working with plants can be a time consuming, dirty, and hard on the back sort of adventure. Remember to take the time to rest. Don’t overdo it. You can get tools like glovesknee pads, and self-waterers to help you out. There are even apps like Planta and Gardenia to help you learn about your plants and sort out schedules for watering or fertilizing.

Enjoy And Be Happy

This is very serious. If you are not enjoying what you’re doing, then stop. You can always donate the plants to a friend, relative, or neighbor. This should be a fun activity for you. Now go and grow!

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Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

More Information on How Gardening Helps Your Mental Health

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