You got passed over for that promotion. Your dog’s got the best coat around, after your daughter “washed” Harry Pawter with your bottle of Augustinus Bader’s Rich Cream. The chicken won’t be thawed in time for dinner. It’s been a day, and in a moment of fury, you yell: “I’m just so angry, I could—why, I could—plant a whole row of tomatoes and basil!” OK, so that’s probably the last thing you’d ever shout…but maybe it should be. Rage gardening—the act of channeling your frustrations into caring for your plants—has become one of the most surprising trends to take off during the pandemic. And it could be a great way to recenter yourself after a long day, week…or 16-months-and-counting pandemic.
The trend itself isn’t new; blogger Kathryn Leehane wrote about her newfound interest in rage gardening back in 2016, and long before that (in the 19th century, in fact), Dr. Benjamin Rush launched the study of horticultural therapy after sharing how gardening positively impacted people with mental illnesses. All that weeding, planting and watering has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression, as well as a way to boost mindfulness. (Furthermore, a June 2021 survey of 1,015 people found that two-thirds felt happier after gardening.) One theory behind this is that the act of gardening taps into what’s known as “fascination attention,” being so focused on a hobby that it gives our brains a chance to unwind.
“Gardening, of course, calms one’s mind, making it the perfect counterpoint to rage,” Dr. Bryan Bruno of MidCity TMS, a medical center that focuses on treating depression, told Realtor.com. It “requires you to engage completely, both physically and mentally.”
Curious about giving it a try? The next time you’re feeling furious, try these easy rage gardening activities.
1. Attack the Weeds First
Give your anger an outlet. Just about every proponent of rage gardening says the best place to start is with aggressively tearing out all of those annoying weeds and dead plants in your garden. From there, grab your shears and prune anything that’s overgrown.
“As my wheelbarrow started filling up with weeds, branches and dead bits of perennials, I slowly started to feel a little better,” wrote Jennifer Nelson, who has a Ph.D. in horticulture and is the founder of gardening website Grounded and Growing. “I spend a lot of time keeping an eye on small people, perpetually starting and stopping my own projects. So finally taking care of a bunch of things that just made my shoulders slump and my mind think ‘Oh crap’ every time I saw it was an enormous relief.”
2. Turn Watering Your Marigolds into a Meditation
With the white-hot rage cooled a bit, you can move onto practicing mindfulness. Lean into repetitive tasks, like watering plants or planting seeds, and as you do so, focus on what you’re experiencing through each of your senses. “Notice the earth, feel the soil, smell the air and take a long slow deep breath. Connect with the world around you,” Suze Yalof Schwartz, Unplug Meditation founder, shared with the New York Times.
3. Plant What Brings You Joy
Let’s be real: Tending to a garden can be tedious. Whether you’re looking to start a garden or expand one, it’s important to create a space where you genuinely look forward to the end result—not only will you feel more accomplished as things grow, but it’ll keep you feeling encouraged if, say, those tulips never quite emerge from the ground. (Rage gardening shouldn’t be enraging, after all.)
Would you dream of cooking with fresh herbs you’ve grown yourself? Try a victory garden. Do you love fresh flowers on your counter? A cutting garden is your best bet. Are you into birdwatching? Consider planting pollinators to attract hummingbirds. (Though, before you commit to anything, it’s worth knowing your USDA hardiness zone, so you’re aware of what will thrive in your area.)
4. Add a Conversation Starter
The past year has been isolating, which can also cause a dip in your mood. And, given all of the research about how socializing can make you feel happier, it might be worthwhile to add an element to your garden that inspires you to stop and connect with others. Maybe it’s a bench, or a fairy garden that others can contribute to, or a bistro table and chairs to encourage a coffee break with a friend or neighbor. Sure, it’s not gardening per se, but it’s a way to enjoy your garden more—and maybe strengthen a relationship or two in the process. (And at the very least, it’s something you can’t kill, should your track record with plants be, well, less than stellar.)