For Kathy Bruederline, gardening is "good for the soul."
Originally from The Pas, Bruederline lives in Brandon and helps tend approximately five gardens around the city.
"I always did it (gardening). I liked being outside. You get to play in the dirt. You get the vegetables. And the weeds. The weeds are doing very well this year," she said with a laugh.
One of the properties she gardens sits just northeast of Brandon. It’s roughly 65 feet by 65 feet. It’s smaller this year, she pointed out. If ends up with too much produce come harvest time, she gives it away to people from throughout the community.
For Bruederline, gardening isn’t work. It’s a passion, and she sees the plants she has nurtured from seedlings as her babies.
She gets excited when she sees tomatoes growing.
But it’s more than that.
Bruederline has gardening neighbours from around the world. She grew up in a melting pot of nationalities. Being in the garden with so many people from different countries feels like home. But she gets the added bonus of benefiting from their knowledge she may otherwise never have had access to.
Take for instance her Japanese garden-neighbour who showed her how to stake her cucumbers. Rather than climb along the ground, with a stake in place, the cucumber plant grows vertically, preventing it from rotting on the ground.
Then there’s Vladimir, the six-year-old potato bug killer.
"He has a knack for finding them," she said.
Gardening, for Bruederline, is like the old days.
"The kids are out in the field playing. Everyone’s talking. And people are happy."
Serena Petrella is a doctor and associate professor of sociology at Brandon University for 12 years.
Not only does she study the impact community gardening has on people, but she has co-ordinated the community garden at the university for the last several years. The garden she oversees is part of creating a sustainable food system. Traditional flower growing places on campus were turned into vegetable gardens where the produce is shared with two food banks. She operates the gardens with volunteers and a paid staff member she negotiated through a grant.
She says one of the great benefits of gardening is seeing life created.
"It increases self-esteem. It makes us feel good. It allows people to build resilience. With gardening, there are many successes and failures. It teaches you the cycle of life and to be prepared for a certain amount of failures."
It also allows people to be open and a little more accepting, she added.
Being a gardener reminds you of the cycle of life, she said, adding that when you’re surrounded by concrete it’s more difficult to connect with nature.
Petrella pointed out that gardening also allows exposure to natural stimuli such as greenery and contact with nature. It reduces stress and replenishes energy.
This reinforces what is referred to as the Attention Restoration Theory. Basically, the more we’re in contact with nature and green landscapes, the more we are able to think clearly.
"Think of how the pandemic has robbed us of any control," Petrella said. Then, to have some form of control over growing something from a seedling with the ability to see it come to life would allow for some control and self-efficacy.
The result was a gardening boom where, anecdotally, there were stories circulating in the city of a shortage of sheep manure — gardener’s gold.
Petrella wonders if the boom will continue once the pandemic is over.
The benefits of gardening are obvious, she said. It gives people a chance to grow their own food, and it’s a good source of exercise.
But, she said that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
People from different classes come together in that space, and it creates a community. Everyone comes together. It’s classless, with people who are unrelated to each other keeping a watchful eye on other people’s children, harkening back to the old expression, "It takes a village to raise a child."
Just shy of 65, Bruederline has no intention of giving up gardening anytime soon. The joy she experiences being outside, around people she grows her food with, offers a special kind of bond.
"It’s good for the soul. It gives you a purpose. It gives you somewhere to go," she said.
"You can socialize and still do it at a distance. I talk to Helena all the time and she’s just over here. And we talk while we work. Except for Vladimir. He always talks. He’s so cute."