“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Peacefully puttering in my garden recently, I came to reflect on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts that doing things that bring us peace transforms our lives and those in the world around us.

Nature provides us with quiet rewards, immediate and long term. The sun warming our backs, the umami aroma of freshly turned earth, the floral rainbow of colors, dancing leaves and butterflies, all these are the immediate pleasures of our time in the garden and in nature. And whether you have a large acreage or a window pot or patio to work with, the joys of gardening are truly a form of therapy.

I recently wandered my yard in delight, stunned by usually spring-blooming Texas bluebonnets and summer-blooming neon plumerias making unexpected, early arrivals. Another surprise visitor was the flame-red torches of new gladioli blooming. Maybe the big freeze threw off their biorhythms.

Additionally, little lion-faced pansies, brassy trumpet esperanzas, splaying Mexican firecracker bushes, fantastically shaped orange/yellow/scarlet Pride of Barbados, magenta and violet bougainvillea were holding court.

Harvestable veggies are showing up like crisp micro-greens, buttery yellow green lettuces, perky radishes shouldering through the soil, intense lanceolate blue-green kale, aromatic basil, oregano, rosemary, cilantro and dill.

Gardening is a bit like raising children or putting the seed of a dream or new idea into our consciousness. We need patience, time, care and, above all, a vision of the possible future. The ability to defer immediate gratification while the seasons of life evolve is a process of maturation and inner growth, a practice of patience.

Like in our daily lives, just because we may not see something happening, doesn’t mean it’s not. Our good is coming our way as a result of our disciplined day-to-day work and may show up unexpectedly.

At this time of year, as we celebrate together the harvest bounty, we can rejoice in the many gifts Earth provides. Besides food and bouquets, gardening provides many health benefits.

A review of 22 studies in older adults found gardening is an activity that can promote overall health and quality of life, physical strength, fitness and flexibility, cognitive ability and socialization. The implementation of gardening as a health-promoting activity can be used in urban and rural communities as individual and group activities.

At our Family Medicine Stewart Road Clinic, for example, Dr. Sagar Kamprath has been leading a group of student and community volunteers to build and grow a community garden and green space, an island of beauty, peace and nourishment before and after their doctor visits. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Texas Medical Branch has a large community garden lovingly cared for by volunteer seniors.

Other researched benefits of gardening include improvements in self-esteem, hand strength, vitamin D levels, family fun, healthier food, heart health, stress reduction, cognition, physical fitness, bone health, mood and happiness in general.

What are you waiting for? Dig in and find the peace within.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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