The arrival of primavera gives us another opportunity to get “grounded” in the therapeutic benefits of un bel giardino. You don’t have to have a degree in botany to experience the joy of tending a garden, Italian style. As you read this, the Bel Paese is already preparing every fertile nook and cranny of its soil for an eventual abundance of succulent lemons, blood oranges, grapes, olives, tomatoes, capers, and golden durum wheat, as well as flowers. In addition to working the body and calming the mind, growing your own produce will also benefit your wallet. Statistics show that a small family can save up to 2,000 dollars by eating the fruits of their own labor!
Each year as winter melts away I, too, begin to envision how my own Italian garden plot will look when in bloom. I close my eyes and imagine myself strolling down a lavish Renaissance monastary garden toward summer’s end. There is a shady place to sit and reflect, while enjoying the fragrance of herbs, fruits, and flowers, all sculpted into beautiful architectural designs that give the spirit an esthetic vacation from the heat and bustle of city life. These gardens were often complex geometric extensions of the villas to which they belonged. Most had long aisles that extended through intermittent patches of lush green forrest and fragrant fruit trees. They were designed by artists, architects, sculptors and hydraulic engineers, whose elaborate fountains cooled the weary in the sweltering heat of summer. When I snap myself back to reality I recall the beauty and simplicity of my grandparents’ garden—-more practical than esthetic, but just as therapeutic as the high brow gardens of an era past.
A relatively new school of thought called “ecopsychology” studies the synergistic relationship between nature and human beings. Researchers have found that a close connection with nature –as in gardening—is directly connected to our personal well-being. Gardening allows us to clear our minds, get exercise, sunshine, fresh air, and soothe ourselves with the senses. The turn- of- the -century imigrants knew nothing about ecopsychology–or any psychology for that matter. They just knew that when they worked in their orto (vegetable patch) they were happy. And at the end of the day they nourished themselves with pesticide-free fruits and vegetables like jucy red tomatoes, sweet peas right from the pods, chewy grapes picked fresh from the vine. What simpler joy could exist?
Television and sedentary living are not effective antidotes for restlessness, boredom, and stress. Creating your own Italian garden, which engages your whole being—body, mind , and spirit—can, on the other hand, lift your mood, bring friends and family together, and revive you from the winter blahs better than any television show or video game can.
Amici, facciamo giardinaggio. Let’s get out the rake, the hoe, the shovel, and the garden gloves, and carry on the healthy tradition that would make our ancestors proud.
(Adapted from an article I wrote for “The Italian Tribune”). If you love these self-help articles with my characteristic Italian perspective, please let me know it, and also share with five of your best amici today. You will be giving them the gift of positivity and joy!