There is no doubt that gardening is good for the body and soul, says Busisiwe Mgangxela, a former nurse who now farms in KwaMathole in Middledrift, northwest of East London in the Eastern Cape.
On 48 hectares, the 60-year-old farms with a variety of organic vegetables using a food-growing system that works in unison with nature. She produces indigenous greens like amaranth and blackjack as well as medicinal plants like cancer bush and herbs like moringa, among others.
“You are exposed to the sun so you can get all your vitamin D. This improves your immune system,” she explains. “The beauty, the diversity of animals… you connect with an ecosystem that leaves you balanced.”
Mgangxela adds, “When you are in the garden outside, you are getting fresh air. The oxygen you need is out there. You don’t even need to open a window in the house. You are in the fresh air.”
You also wouldn’t believe the spiritual process of physically getting your hands dirty as you plant your seeds, she says. “If you walk barefoot in the garden, you are aligning your energy with the earth which you are made from. Walking barefoot gives you that spiritual energy – you can spend the whole day in the garden, and you will feel so full of energy.”
Being one with nature
Research shows that getting in tune with nature can have many psychological and physical benefits. We know that gardening is quite popular amongst especially senior citizens who spend their leisure hours in the garden.
But any age group can reap the benefits of a little time in the garden, says expert gardener Stephanie Mullins. She is the lead coordinator of SEED, who champions outdoor classrooms on the Cape Flats, growing food in various communities.
Vuyo Mayesa (40) from Warrenton in the Northern Cape adds, “It really is the little moments of peace for me.”
Mayesa is the founder of the Ditshoswane Art Centre and community garden in the township of Refithlile.
“I have discovered more peace,” he says. “The air smells and feels more therapeutic and just puts you in this relaxed mode. Waking up in the morning and just watering the garden gives you the opportunity for you to just relax before you start the day and to have some different perspective to the day.”
Let’s get physical
While you’re pruning, planting and raking up leaves, you’re also burning some calories, strengthening your muscles, building stamina and increasing your flexibility.
And the best bit? Gardening is such an enjoyable way to spend a morning or afternoon, it doesn’t even feel like work.
“Gardening is like doing the secret squats you didn’t know you were doing,” says Devroll Legodi (27) from Gauteng.
“You are constantly stretching when you first bend down or reach for that pail of water it hurts but after a while it just starts to feel so natural,” adds the Bronkhorstspruit vegetable farmer.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but planting those small seeds needs a lot of concentration, especially if you are going to be using your fingers.
“You need to be sure of where you poke your hole in the ground, especially with something like onions. Just make sure that it is the right measurement for that food to go inside that hole!”
Mgangxela echoes Legodi’s sentiments and says, “It gets physical. It is where you start watering your plants, tilling the soil. Then you are using your hands, you are using your feet to move your source of water – that is exercise.”
What about children?
Children also love spending time outdoors. Getting them into the garden is a wonderful way of teaching them about nature – and of having lots of fun while you’re at it, adds Mayesa.
This also inspired him to partner with an early development centre in Refithlile to educate children on the rich benefits of gardening.
“My son is so passionate that he has planted his own plant,” he says. “It [gardening] also gives them a sense of responsibility to nature, seeing food sprout from the ground to their table.”