Hello Friends,

I hope you and your family are well. I am thinking of you and sending my positive thoughts and prayers. We are missing everyone, and hope to bridge the distance through this electronic connection.

Thankfully, the weather is warmer, the sun is shining and we are spending more time outside. After a year+ of considerable time spent in our homes, many happy Wisconsinites are stepping outdoors and gardening. Gardening is not only a productive way to enjoy nature, it is also beneficial to our health and wellbeing.

Gardening provides exercise. Since some of us have been more sedentary during the pandemic, committing to even light gardening boosts the metabolism and engages muscles.  The physical movement of digging, raking, weeding, and watering burns calories and may strengthen muscles. (Of course, with any physical activity, please check with your doctor first.)  In addition, regular exercise, like moderate gardening, can help prevent memory loss. According to a study from the Medical Journal of Australia, a daily dose of gardening lowers the risk of dementia.

Gardening is also a mood enhancer and has psychological benefits.  For example, gardening can increase serotonin, a chemical in our brain which helps boost overall mood. Gardening may also lower cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. News and World Reports states, “Gardening has a wide range of mood benefits, such as reductions in depression, anxiety and anger, as well as increases in happiness.” (-Preventive Medicine Reports study)

While you are receiving the glorious physical and psychological benefits from gardening, it is important to be prepared and stay safe.  While some sun exposure is healthy, obviously, please use care. Even if the sun does not feel hot, the damaging ultraviolent rays are still at work. Wear a wide-brim hat, slather on the sunscreen, drink fluids, and take breaks as needed. In addition, if someone has challenges with dexterity, please make modifications. Lightweight gardening tools may help.

Of course, everyone does not have a yard or is able to plant a garden. However, you can still enjoy the pleasures of gardening through windowsill/container gardening, amusing garden inspired activities and/or tasty garden-fresh recipes. The possibilities are endless!

So, what are you waiting for? Put on your schelppy (Yiddish for run-down) clothes and let’s experience the joys of gardening! It is easier than you think!

“The earth has music for those who listen.” (-William Shakespeare) 


Enjoy the Benefits of Digging in the Dirt:

1. Therapeutic Benefits of Gardening and Caring for Plants There are magical and abundant lessons in gardening.

  • Gardening gives us time to meditate and think. Try to relax and get into the “zone” while you garden. Use this time to quietly reflect. Allow yourself to drift off as you work, finding a magical state of mindfulness.
  • Our world needs many things right now, but we all need to stay positive, continue growing and moving forward. Audrey Hepburn said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”  How wise!  Keep an optimistic mindset and look forward to your beautiful flowering stalks and new growth. Gardening shows us, first-hand, there is always something to hope for.
  • Gardens remind us that investing time and energy can bring amazing returns. After we plant a seed, we lovingly tend to it by regularly watering and weeding. With a little luck, and a lot of patience and consistent care, ultimately, we will reap remarkable gifts.  Isn’t this true of almost everything in life? For example, with love, patience, and consistent attention and care, children and relationships thrive. William Wordsworth said, “Let nature be your teacher.”
  • Gardens remind us of the beauty in nature. Enjoy the moment, and experience nature’s gifts. Soak in the feeling of gratitude and abundance. A garden is a little slice of heaven.
  • For our friends caring for a loved-one with memory loss, gardening can provide a social activity, and may enhance your love-one’s sense of purpose. Gardening can be a productive, bright, joy-filled activity.

“Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.” -author unknown

2. Container Gardening and Tips- Not everyone is able to garden outside, but everyone has a windowsill or a container!   If you are intimidated, start small with just a few houseplants or a pot. Personally, I have tried container gardening many times. When I was first married, we lived in downtown Chicago. Instead of a yard, we only had a small patio/deck. Still, we were able to successfully plant cucumbers in a pot. In addition, I am currently growing two herb plants.  For easy access when I cook, I found a sunny spot for them inside my home. I am happy to report that my basil and mint plants are flourishing!  I hope you will be encouraged by the ideas below:

“Play in the dirt. Because life is too short to always have clean fingernails.” -gardentherapy.ca

3. Grow Veggies From Scraps! –  Did you know that you can regrow some common veggies from scraps?  I think this is slightly incredible! Foods like: potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, celery, bulb fennel, carrots, beets, lettuce, cabbages, basil, mint, and cilantro can all be grown in this way. Expand your harvest with this fun and easy way to grow your veggies. Click here for instructions and pictures; read this article by Elizabeth Waddington: www.ruralsprout.com/regrow-vegetables

4. Fresh Produce Recipe Ideas- This pescatarian gets very excited by fresh summer veggies and fruit. There are many delightful, and often easy ways to enjoy produce. Below are a few anecdotes and recipes.

  • A quick story… When I was 19 years old and a student in Madison, I was blessed to have had a summer internship with a creative, fun, interesting, funky, and kind woman, Jill M. She opened my young eyes to things I still love today: National Public Radio, Concerts on the Square (in Madison), and my beloved Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. Oh Mollie, I love you so! While Mollie Katzen offers many extraordinary recipes, sometimes her simple ones are my favorites. So, when you harvest your tomatoes, make sure you try this recipe. Mollie Katzen suggests impressing your lunch guests with a broiled open-faced sandwich like this, “ On rye or pumpernickel or herb bread:  Some fancy Dijon-type mustard, some home-made mayonnaise, a very thin slice of onion, a very thin slice of tomato, some thin rings of sweet red or green pepper, and a slice of the finest cheese in the room.  Broil till cheese begins to turn brown.”  (By the way, I use store-bought mayo. I am not so fancy.)
  • I am so glad you decided to grow cucumbers! They have always been my favorite veggie in our garden. Perhaps that is because I grew up watching my Grandmother Mildred, my Mom and all my incredible aunts make dill pickles.  I remember bushels of cucumbers, gigantic bunches of fresh dill, pickling spices and people… so many relatives- all smashed into my Grandparent’s west-side kitchen. The women buzzed around, washing mounds of pickles, and talking loudly while they carefully canned the pickles. Throughout the year, it was a huge delicacy to eat the pickles that had been brewing for months!  Yum- a true Kosher dill pickle treat. We couldn’t wait! Do you have a family pickle recipe?

If you are looking for other ways to enjoy your cucumbers, click here to read “36 Cucumber Recipes to Make This Summer” (-Taste of Home). https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/cucumber-recipes-to-make-this-summer/

5. Garden Inspired Activities and Inspiration!  Enjoy gardening in a variety of ways:  appreciate gardens close to home, enjoy a famous garden from around the world, or try a few inspired activities.  All the activities below can be easily adapted for our loved ones with memory loss or enjoy as intergenerational activities.

  • The Keukenhof– Located in South Holland in the town of Lisse, the Keukenhof is the largest flower garden on earth! This garden is home to seven million tulips! This relaxing and beautiful virtual tour is sure to inspire you. Click here for this 7 minute video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLg3YuPBps8
  • Visit Boerner Botanical Gardens- Stroll the grounds in this beautiful local garden (located in Whitnall Park). Enjoy dozens of blooming gardens throughout the year. Click here for more information:    https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/Parks/Explore/Boerner-Botanical-Gardens
  • Make the World’s Cutest Garden Markers- Honestly, the ideas are ridiculously charming. Click here: https://www.thekitchn.com/cute-and-easy-garden-markers-you-can-diy-with-supplies-you-already-have-245089?amp=1
  • Vote for Your Favorite Flowers– Grab a loved one or a dear friend, and take a walk in your neighborhood, or drive to a deluxe neighborhood, and vote for your favorite garden or flowers.
  • Take Pictures of Your Favorites!– While you are admiring your preferred flowers, don’t forget to take a few pictures. If they are gorgeous, consider framing them to enjoy all year long!
  • Buy Fresh Flowers– If you can’t plant, you can still enjoy the beauty of fresh flowers. Visit a floral shop or grocery store and pick up your favorite bouquet. We all need to stop and smell the roses!
  • Enjoy a Coffee Table Gardening Book- Learn more about gardening through words and pictures. Read together and discuss the ideas with your loved one. Consider borrowing a few books from the library. What a treat!


6. Try A Little Brain Health-  Regular mental fitness exercise can help your cognition. Print out these creative food related handouts and have fun keeping your brain fit. Enjoy the three attached exercises.

  • Jumbled Fruits and Vegetables Handout- Unscramble the jumbled words.
  • Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt Handout- Test your memory speed and complete the questions as fast as possible. Then, go back and recheck your work. How did you do?
  • Alphabetize the Berries- After you alphabetize the berries, “google” and read about any unfamiliar berries.  I love berries, but haven’t had the pleasure of eating all the berries listed.  Make it a point to buy those berries at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Eating a new berry and learning something new is delicious, and good for your brain health! It’s a win-win!

“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course, it’s really our garden that is really nurturing us.”Jenny Uglow

Appreciate the many gifts gardening brings. This joyful, healthy pursuit is good for your body, mind and soul. So, happy digging everyone! I would love to hear what you did to bring more growth and beauty into your life through gardening. As always, if you have a question related to aging, memory loss or caregiving, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I am here for you, and happy to help. You can find me here: DRubin-Winkelman@ovation.org

Thinking of you and sending all my positive energy and love,