Julie Jacobson: This thankful gardener

From food to oxygen to pollinators to exercise and sheer beauty, gardens give us many benefits. Enjoy one gardener’s list of reasons that I’m thankful for gardens.

The fourth Thursday in November is assigned to giving thanks. The dictionary defines thankfulness as the feeling of being happy or grateful because of something.

Counting my blessings today and always for my faith, family, friends, books and my gardens.

The beauty of the seasons

There is nothing more beautiful than a Nebraska autumn at harvest time, exemplified in my landscape by maple trees with their colorful foliage; from the huge golden leaves of the big leaf maple, to the brilliant reds of the elderberry and purples in the plums and ninebark.

I am thankful for year-round color, beginning with crocuses and other spring bulbs followed by summer-blooming perennials in my cottage garden. Berries, such as those of the winterberry holly, spreading yews, chokeberries and viburnum add hues and texture to the winter landscape.

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This year I planted two Artic Fire red twig dogwoods for their fabulous red stems revealed in winter after their leaves have fallen. I am grateful that our climate allows a variety of plants to grow so that every season the garden is transforming.

I am thankful, however, that our growing season is not year-round. I relish in the downtime that allows me to peruse the seed catalogs and plan next year’s garden.

I am thankful for plants, especially trees because they are important to almost every aspect of our lives including breathing and eating. They create the oxygen in our atmosphere through photosynthesis.

All food comes directly or indirectly from plants: the fruit and vegetables we grow, meats and dairy products from animals that eat plants and sugar and flour in baked goods.

Most medicines originate from plants. My kitchen garden gives so much, providing a steady supply of fresh herbs and salad veggies all summer. I know that my produce is free from chemicals and is thoroughly safe, at a time when food safety is questioned in cities.

Fresh vegetables are 50% higher in nutrients than those that travel many miles to the supermarket. I am grateful for native plants that provide habitat and food for birds, pollinators and other wildlife.

Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds

Besides gratitude for their beauty, I am thankful for the work of pollinators.

Plants are rooted in place, so they need an agent, such as a bee, to transfer pollen for them. Successful pollination allows plants to manufacture seeds.

Seeds are key to producing the next generation of plants, that provides food for the next generation of pollinators. Neither plant nor pollinator populations can exist in isolation.

As a gardener, I strive to attract pollinators and show my gratitude to them by using organic products and avoiding chemical ones.

Connecting with friends and neighbors

Like most gardeners, I need other gardening friends who are wiling to listen or read about my tales of garden successes and failures (like the moles that refuse to leave my yard!).

I need friends who are happy to share seeds and cuttings and thoughtful advice and am blessed with great master gardener instructors, Extension service and their coordinators that give us the latest information to learn, disseminate and distribute to others.

As stated in the master gardener mission statement, “unbiased research-based information to educate the public and our communities on best practices in sustainable horticulture and environmental stewardship.”

Gardening is good for your health: it burns calories, reduces stress and improves your overall physical and mental well-being.

Studies, such as those by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that gardening can lower blood pressure, cut the risk of heart attack and stroke and prolong life. The strength and stretching required to garden work all the major muscle groups.

Research shows that you can burn 300 to 400 calories an hour with moderate gardening. Because it is low impact exercise, it is an excellent activity for those who are older, have disabilities, or have chronic pain.

Gardening allows the brain to relax and release the tension caused by our addiction to technology. It generates a feeling of accomplishment and allows us to focus on the beauty of life. More studies show that young children who are exposed to soil develop stronger immune systems and are less likely to develop asthma, eczema, or other allergies.

Gardening teaches children life lessons such as patience and responsibility. It has been shown that garden-based education improves academic performance. Children learn about sustainability while being encouraged to adopt healthy eating habits.

Since I was a child growing up on the farm, I have loved to dig in the dirt.

As an adult, there is the added bonus of not having to worry about what I am wearing while doing it!

I am thankful for public garden spaces like our beautifully manicured city parks, West Central Extension gardens and farms and the Nebraska botanical gardens housed in Lincoln and Omaha.

They allow us the opportunity to be educated first-hand on new ideas and trends or just provide a green space to relax in and enjoy.

Let’s not forget our local, independent garden centers that are a great source of inspiration. I can wander around aimlessly for hours, grateful for their knowledgeable staff who are always ready to answer question after question.

Those are just six reasons for being thankful. I can think of more, such as how gardening evokes memories, slows you down, puts worries in perspective and hones your senses.

Anna Pavord, author of The Curious Gardener, says “A garden gives pleasure, instills calm, grafts patience into your soul”. Every year has challenges which may tempt me to complain, but at this time of year I can only express my gratitude for the tangible evidence of time well spent.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

For additional information or questions about the Master Gardener Program please contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683.