Why Dirt Under Our Nails Is So Good For Us


Recently, I was talking with a friend about her new garden.

At first, we traded a litany of complaints and disappointments.

Deer ate her tomatoes. A groundhog ate my sunflowers. She kept digging up bricks (the remains of an old patio). I kept plucking the nymphs of Spotted Lantern Flies (the newest pest to invade Pennsylvania).

But after ten minutes or so, we both sighed. And almost as one we said,

Isn’t it wonderful to work in a garden?

Here is one of those great mysteries of gardening:

From the outside it looks like drudgery.

From the inside, it does sometimes feel like drudgery.

But when my mind drifts toward my garden, it is rarely with a sense of dread. Rather, whether it is deep winter and I must wait for spring or it is summer vacation and I must wait for homecoming, when I think of my garden it is almost always with a mixture of longing and love, grief and gratitude.

And even the grief (whether I grieve over diseased plants or troublesome pests) is a kind of love.

After our shared sigh, we laughed, and she said, “I’ve heard there’s something in the soil–some mineral, maybe?–that’s good for us. Even if my garden fails, I am glad for this chance to take off my gloves and get some dirt under my nails.”


My friend is right.

No matter our superficial successes or failures, it is good for us and for our happiness to tend a bit of dirt.

Scientists have found evidence of soil’s anti-depressive properties, and exposure to dirt and sunshine strengthens our immune systems.

So while it is good to make plans, set goals, and work toward garden progress of one kind or another, the work itself is worthwhile.

The work itself can help keep us happy and healthy.

Here are a few more links for further reading:

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.


Posted on

July 13, 2020

Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest