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Growing an Edible Garden Provides Both Physical and Mental Health Benefits


Photo by Lewis Wilson/Unsplash. 


With summer upon us and Brandywine Valley residents flocking outdoors, backyards have become sanctuaries in these uncertain times, whether for a spontaneous game of corn hole or unwinding by a fire pit. Recently, with so many at home, there’s been an increased interest in edible gardening, too. “Everybody wants to be in their backyards. I have definitely seen a growing interest in growing vegetables and herbs,” says Eileen Boyle, the director of conservation and research at the Mt. Cuba Center.

“Seed companies are just blown away. Everything has hopped off the shelves,” adds Sally McCabe of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Whether you have an outdoor space or just a windowsill in your apartment, growing fruit, veggies and herbs can be a source of joy and hope in difficult times. As an added bonus, you can reap the benefits with healthy fresh produce throughout the season.  

Edible gardens can be simple to start. Not only can you reap the benefits with fresh produce throughout the season—minus the trip to the store—but growing fruits, veggies and herbs can have mental benefits, too.

Pam Young, a horticultural therapist at Main Line Health’s Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, works with patients recovering from various medical traumas. “When you plant a seed and it germinates and grows, it’s an example of hope, and even through all that is happening in the world right now, the garden and plants outside haven’t stopped growing,” she says. “Plants can be a symbol of hope right now. They can provide a practical platform for healing. They’re not judgmental, so maybe that gives people peace.”

Whether seeking mental health benefits or simply a new hobby, now’s the perfect time to start your own edible garden. To help residents, Mt. Cuba Center and PHS are offering virtual courses, tips and workshops for different types of gardens.

Edible gardens don’t require large plots of land, explains Boyle, noting that small edible gardens are a great way to get kids involved and interested in nature. “You don’t have to be that fancy—you can put two or three things together like lettuce with your pansies,” she says.

She suggests beginning with vegetables since they’re often simpler to grow. “Right about now, I’m starting to plant my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and things that like a warmer climate,” Boyle says. “You can always plant things like corn and beans—and for those you don’t need a plant, you can just put the seeds in the ground.”

For those looking for something a bit more unique or challenging, “there also are a lot of cool native plants you can plant in your backyard like blueberries or cranberrybush viburnum or pawpaw fruit,” she says. The latter is a sweet, tangy fruit that thrives regionally this time of year, but rarely shows up at farm stands or grocery stores.

While summer is under way and growers may only yield one crop this year, McCabe says not to be discouraged by weather. “You might be too late for the spring season, but you’re ready for the summer season,” she says. “It’s always the appropriate time to start a garden.”

If you’re unable to eat all the produce your edible garden yields, some local organizations are collecting food donations for those in need, including PHS’s Harvest 2020, which is working to mobilize 100,000 gardeners in the region.

Green thumb or not, edible gardens are a fun and practical hobby to pick up this summer.