Slowing Down

The idea of fast-growing vegetables and plants is implied in every advertisement for some brands of fertilizers, compost, or other soil additives. If the particular product and the chemicals inside it are added to the soil, plants will produce more fruits and vegetables because they will grow stronger, higher, hardier and faster.

The trouble is that “fast” and “speed” are not words usually associated with gardening. Plants grow at essentially the same rate, no matter what fertilizers are added to the soil. And when it comes to talking about how gardening can improve mental health, the slow and steady growth of plants is a good thing. 

That’s because we live in a fast-paced, do-it-now world in which we are constantly bombarded by demands for our attention. But humans have a finite ability to deal with that 24/7 attention demand and, after a while, people tend to become irritable, stressed, distracted, mistake-prone and even physically or mentally ill.

Fortunately, “attention fatigue” is reversible by, you guessed it, slowing down and not focusing on anything. Folks who study the restorative aspects of nature call that slowing down involuntary attention. It‘s essentially attention that requires no effort.

In other words, nature in general—and gardens specifically—contain a lot of fascinating things: birds, plants, smells, sunrises and sunsets, dew on plants, worms in the ground, etc. And all of these things are fascinating and can be enjoyed without having to devote your full attention to them. In fact, you can enjoy them while still thinking about other things. So, your brain gets to rest and recharge.

The bottom line: the next time you are feeling burned out, trade in your Blackberry for a blackberry bush.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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