Kurt Jones

Welcome back to “In the Garden.” This column first appeared in The Mountain Mail on Oct. 31, 2000. After 18 years of writing a weekly column, I found myself burned out and “recycling” older articles. Busted!

Late in 2018, I found that my articles weren’t being published, and my editor asked me to create fresh new articles. It was time for a time-out. After a few months off, I began to miss it, and my editor kept gently pushing. Nothing like the new year to begin again!

Thank you for your past support of this weekly column, and welcome for those who didn’t know what you are missing.

Ask five gardeners about why they garden, and you will likely hear five distinctly different stories. For many, gardening has individualized benefits for the people involved and their families. Some enjoy getting outdoors and back to nature. Others enjoy eating the freshest produce available. Some enjoy gardening with young children and grandchildren. Have a child who doesn’t like carrots? Have them grow some in a garden and see if this changes their outlook.

There are several common themes surrounding reasons for gardening. The increased physical activity and improved diet of gardeners are frequently cited as benefits of gardening. Related to this is the recent trend of people wanting to know where their food is coming from. That dinner salad tastes even better knowing that you grew the lettuce, spinach, radishes, tomatoes, cilantro and other goodies that accompany it.

Another trend in gardening that is growing is the idea of garden therapy. Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center partnered with Colorado State University Extension and the Colorado Master Gardeners to create a Healing Garden at the hospital. The theory behind this work is to create a place of peace for those who may be going through times of trial.

Other garden therapy activities include creating a sensory garden for sight-impaired children (envision the sounds, smells and touch that could accompany the garden environment for those who do not have the benefit of sight).

This trend is not a fluke. According to the American Horticulture Therapy Association, horticulture therapy is a time-proven practice. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the “father of American psychiatry,” was first to document the positive effect working in the garden had on individuals with mental illness.

Individuals wanting to serve as horticultural therapists have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in horticulture therapy and have completed a minimum of a 480-hour supervised practicum from a registered practitioner.

Gardening also contributes significantly to Colorado’s economy. According to a study conducted by Colorado State University entitled “The Economic Contribution of Colorado’s Green Industry: A 2008 Update,” Colorado household and business expenditures on garden, landscape and lawn products and services (including linkage industries such as irrigation systems, botanical gardens, lawn and garden equipment and maintenance services) averaged almost 10 percent annual growth since 1993, for a 2007 total of $1.8 billion.

The $1.8 billion directly contributed to the Colorado economy increases to $3.3 billion when its impact on broader economic activity and employment generation in the Colorado economy is considered.

The authors also found that, in 2007, the green industry provided Coloradans with more than 35,000 jobs, an increase of 12,000 jobs since 1994 (tripling in size in less than 15 years), with $1.2 billion in payroll (up $750 million from 1994).

The average green industry wage earned in 2007 increased to an average of $35,318 annually, up from $26,159 in 2001.

Gardening will likely remain a mainstay for many, because the benefits are as individualized as those who participate. Whether it’s contributing to a healthy lifestyle through physical activity and healthy eating, returning to our agrarian roots, connecting with nature or creating those special outdoor spaces, gardening may have some appeal for you.

For more information about how to get started, contact the Chaffee County Extension office at 719-539-6447.

Kurt Jones is Colorado State University Extension director for Chaffee County. Listen to his weekly gardening radio program on KHEN from 1 to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays.