Remember when you were in second grade and you planted a bean seed in a paper cup of dirt? What fun it was to put it in the window of your classroom and water it every day. Recall your excitement when little green tips began to poke out of the dirt? Suddenly there was a little forest of beans, and your teacher read the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. You were ready to dig up your whole yard at home to plant a garden.
Why not get your hands dirty?
Studies are now showing that getting your hands in the dirt and playing with plants can be good for you, mind as well as body. What's important is to enjoy the play aspects, just like kids. Dig a bucketful of dirt and dump it onto newspaper on a garden table. Take your time looking at it. Is it the same color all the way through? Are there any bugs or worms in it? Lift up some in your hand. Are all the particles the same? Is it sandy? Full of pebbles? Can you squish it into a ball because it has lots of clay? What does it smell like? After you've thoroughly explored your dirt, walk around your yard and scoop a sample here and there with a trowel. How does this spot compare to the soil you dug to start? Is it damper? Drier? Does it have the same mix of dirt particles, stones, and decomposed plants or leaves? Now you're beginning to know your soil and you can compare with bags of compost or potting soil at the store. What do you prefer? What do you think plants might prefer?
There's time for science class at any age
Here's an experiment. Take 5 paper cups and punch small holes toward the bottom 1/4 with a toothpick to let water seep out. Now fill each cup with dirt from a different source. Add a couple of bean seeds. Place in a sunny spot, water and check for sprouting in a few days. When the plants appear, you can transplant into your garden, a container, or just allow them to gently wither for compost.
The practice of using your happy memories to build fun and pay attention to each moment of experience in the present is vital for mental health as we age. What are you doing to get your hands in the dirt and play awhile? If you are looking for ideas for your aging in place - and fun! - garden, Second Summer can help.