Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Growing Happiness by Gardening With Joeleen Davis
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 420 of Live Happy Now. This is National Garden Week, so it’s a great time to talk about what plants and planting can do for you.
I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week I’m talking with Joeleen Davis, a master gardener and owner of Wine Cottage Gardens near Nashville. Joeleen has discovered the amazing power of gardening as a tool for social connection, exercise, helping others, and mental wellbeing. She’s here today to talk about all those benefits and more. Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:36] PF: Joeleen, thank you so much for joining me on Live Happy Now.
[00:00:40] JD: Well, thanks for having me.
[00:00:42] PF: This is an exciting conversation to have because I met you over a year ago, and you have this amazing place right outside of Nashville. It’s called Wine Cottage –
[00:00:52] PF: – it’s National Garden Week, let’s kick it off by you explaining what Wine Cottage Gardens is.
[00:00:57] JD: Okay. It all started with a sea shed. But how common is that? I wanted to create a wine shed. We call it the Wine Cottage. Then, we started to build raised beds. It just went off from there. Now, we are vegetable farmers and a little bit of flower farming, and also, beekeeping.
[00:01:21] PF: It’s pretty amazing. It’s a magical place and it’s extensive and just absolutely beautiful. When did you first start it and how long did it take for it to get to what it is now?
[00:01:33] JD: We are going into our fourth growing season, and we had done row gardening, I would say about 13 years now. That was my husband’s thing. I don’t like row gardening. I have no control over the weather. I don’t like to till. So, I took it over and it’s been four years now.
[00:01:52] PF: You have accomplished a lot with it. I know people use it just as a place to come and really absorb the energy and reset themselves. But you’ve also used it as a tool for giving back –
[00:02:02] PF: – during the pandemic, I think it was five families, you said you were able to keep fed with the work that you were doing. How did that come about, where you started saying, “Okay, we want to do this as a way to give back to others.” Then, how did you find the people to give back to?
[00:02:15] JD: Finding the people was the easy thing, just being social and conversations and going for a deeper relationship in those conversations. They don’t always say that they’re hungry, but you can kind of get those into windows a little bit and watching the kids especially. I would say, I started to seriously want to feed people during COVID. It wasn’t necessarily a food bank, it was more like what can I do in my backyard to help these families. We abundance of tomatoes. Tomatoes are the easiest thing, because you can do so many things with them, from sauces, to chilies, to pasta, just whatever, and we gave bushels and bushels of tomatoes to these people. They would come pick it or we would take it to them. I would list it on Facebook, we’ve got this ready or that ready, and I wasn’t really getting the engagement that I wanted. So, we chose individual families based on relationships in our lives and it really worked. Then, tenfold a year later, I realized that giving them food wasn’t fixing the situation, but teaching them how to grow the food was where I wanted to go with it.
[00:03:28] PF: That is so cool. How did you start teaching them? Is that when you became a master gardener? Or were you already a master gardener or what?
[00:03:35] JD: I started master gardeners, for me, I read probably 35 books and then there’s always Google.
[00:03:44] PF: That’s the thing. People need to know, you are the most voracious reader I know.
[00:03:47] JD: Thank you.
[00:03:48] PF: Oh, my gosh. You are always have a stack of books that, “Oh, I just finished that today.”
[00:03:54] JD: I do, and I make notes when I read it because that’s how I learn. I’m a visual learner. I write it down. I look back at it. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. Sunflowers are toxin miners”, because I wrote that down.
I read all these books and it just didn’t seem like enough, so I wanted to go back into the classroom and I did the Master Gardeners program that you met other people through that program, and I just started to have people want to come to my garden to do tours or see my setup, because they had seen pictures of it posted online, and it just started from there. It wasn’t a teaching intention. It just turned into that.
[00:04:30] PF: It’s also been featured on PBS, right?
[00:04:32] JD: It was on PBS twice, and I think it’s because it’s different. There’s the Wine Cottage, made with recycled materials. There’s the chicken coop, again, recycled materials. Then, there’s a pergola we built ourselves. We did it all ourselves with the help of a few friends that really loved us, because it was hot when we’re laying in August.
[00:04:54] PF: Yes, you’ve got such a beautiful, beautiful place. When people come out, do they take classes? How do you go about teaching people?
[00:05:03] JD: I just answer their questions. I never want someone to come to my garden and feel like they can’t garden, because I’m going to bombard them with all these factual things. They just come through and start to ask me questions. If they’re not asking me questions, I will ask them a question to draw something out of them. “Do you want to plant tomatoes? Do you want to learn how to grow these? Look how great these are doing. Are you curious why there’s Basil with these tomatoes?” It’s just saying things like that.
But I find that most of the people that come out, bring their kids, which I love, and they start to ask me questions like, “How did you do this? How did this start? Did you do this all yourselves? This must have taken so long. I want to know more about it.” I just want everyone to feel like they can do this. It’s not hard and it doesn’t have to be hard and it does not have to be expensive.
[00:05:54] PF: Yes, one of the things that’s so interesting is the way that you discovered how powerful gardening can be. Can you talk about that, like, why you actually started gardening and how it has helped you with your mental health?
[00:06:10] JD: My daughter lost her husband tragically. She had just had a baby and he was in the NICU. All of this happen within four days.
[00:06:18] PF: Oh, my gosh.
[00:06:20] JD: And we packed up our family here and went 14 hours south to spend time with her and help her through that. We were down there for 10 days, and my ex was there. He was my abuser for almost eight years. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t function through a dinner. I couldn’t make decisions. I think that’s the first time I realized that I had to share our grandchildren. They’ve always been mine. These kids were mine, I raised them. I always had possession of them, and protected them. Then, all of a sudden, this man that beat me for years was their papa. I couldn’t cope with it. I put on a strong front, took all the emotions down, I get home and I can’t function. I can’t shower. I can’t get up and have coffee. My husband didn’t know what to do or how to help me. So, I went to the garden and I just thought this is where I need to be. I need to dig in the dirt, plant some stuff, and just let it all go. Listen to the birds and just be one with nature.
[00:07:34] PF: That is so incredible. Because we now know that science shows there’s so many benefits of the garden for mental health. We’re going to talk about those in a minute. But at what point did you start realizing it was making a difference?
[00:07:50] JD: Almost immediately.
[00:07:52] PF: Really?
[00:07:52] JD: Yes. I just knew that every time I went outside, I felt better and it was – the garden back then was not as elaborate as it is now. It was just a few raised beds, and there was meant growing, which is very evasive so you have to keep tending to it. I would go pull mint and I would feed it to the chickens. It was immediately that I realized that when I came back in, I felt better. I could function. I could think. Then, I was there for our children here and then our grandchildren here and it really did help. Then, the garden just started to get bigger.
[00:08:29] PF: I love this because it’s kind of like this upward spiral that it created. It’s like you had created the gardens, and then you’re using the gardens to make yourself feel better, and that in turn makes bigger gardens, better gardens, and more people benefit from it.
[00:08:44] JD: There’s such a joy in growing something. You plant a seed or plant, there’s no shame in planting plants and you watch it grow, and you tend to it and you’re taking care of it. Then, you wait for harvest. Hopefully, you get it before a worm does or the birds do. But you bring that in and you feed it to your family. Or you pick that and then you gift it to someone and it’s just the joy that you see on their face is so impactful in your own life.
[00:09:10] PF: That’s really great. Because one of the things that I had read about gardening is it talked about how studies show it gives you a sense of purpose. It can be very good for someone who’s suffering with self-esteem issues or feeling – maybe you’ve lost a job, maybe you’ve lost direction, maybe your life situation has changed dramatically and you’re not sure where to go next. The studies were showing that this can give you something to focus on, give you that sense of purpose, and you get daily rewards of accomplishment because you do see it grow. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. You’re watching it grow and you’re caring for it and seeing it improve.
[00:09:48] JD: One hundred percent. It’s something that you have to do. So, you have a purpose when you wake up. I have to go outside and plant these tomatoes or I need to go tie these tomatoes up. Or after a rain shower, I need to go out there and see the magic that happened because your plants will just jump. You have a purpose and a reason for getting up. Even if you don’t want to get out of bed, you have something that you’re taking care of.
[00:10:15] PF: That’s really important because, especially, if you’re dealing with depression, a lot of times it is difficult to get off the couch. You can’t get out of bed. How can you use that as a motivational tool, if it’s depression that you’re dealing with?
[00:10:30] JD: Depression is hard, because you basically just don’t want to do anything. It’s hard to even brush your teeth when you’re depressed. I would say that just grab your coffee, or your water, or whatever that drink is in the morning and go sit outside in your garden, even if you haven’t had a garden planted, but you just want to be outside. There’s something about that, that is enlightening, and is so good for your soul just to be outside and not in the house, sometimes that can feel like entrapment.
[00:11:01] PF: Yes. We know that fresh air sunshine that does something great for us. But what is actually putting your hands in the soil do? Because you had some interesting things that you had told me about this.
[00:11:11] JD: Yes, there’s actually an antidepressant that’s in the soil and –
[00:11:15] PF: It’s not like we have to dig for this, like it’s a pill that we’re digging for, right?
[00:11:18] JD: No, it’s a natural chemical compound and when you are in the soil, and you’re breaking it up, or digging that plant, or just in it, just close to it, you inhale it, and it makes your serotonin just go crazy high. That is that good feeling. When you are outside, and you’re inhaling just the air outside, you’re inhaling this. It’s incredible just to be in it and just releasing that chemical.
[00:11:45] PF: That’s amazing. What about anxiety and stress? How does it help with lowering anxiety, reducing stress? Because on the one hand, you could be like, I get stressed, if it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, we need to weed the garden. We need to do all this. I get like really hyped up about like all the stuff that has to get done with it.” But it’s actually an anxiety and stress reducer to garden.
[00:12:06] JD: It is. The trick to not getting overwhelmed is just to start. Don’t let your mind play those tricks on you. Just get up and go outside and start somewhere. Start in one bed and work your way down. Or just say, “Hey, today, I’m just going to pull weeds right here.” Then, just pull those weeds and you’ll find that you’re out there a lot longer than you ever anticipated. When you come in, you’re tired, but you have this really good feeling. You don’t have anxiety when you’re listening to birds. You don’t have anxiety when you’re hot and that breeze comes. All of it is just tied in to being outside. I think that if we get outside more, we’d start to realize that our anxiety is in all the stuff in our head, like all the stuff we have to do. The dirty dishes in the sink, or the kids need socks. It’s all of the stuff. But outside there’s no stuff. There is just a garden and you’re just planting, or harvesting, or just looking and just seeing.
[00:13:03] PF: That speaks to the mindfulness aspect too, because to your point, you have to put all the other things out of your mind. You’re talking about, okay, what do I need to do for this plant? What do I need to do right here? You turn your focus completely on your garden on your plants and the soil, instead of having your mind raced and be thinking about a million different things that need to be done.
[00:13:24] JD: It’s 100% true. You just go outside and even if you just go outside to sit there and you’re not going to do something strenuous, it’s just uplifting. Again, to hear the birds and to feel the wind or Tennessee summers are really hot, so you really have to go out in the morning, or in the evening. We have lights in our garden that come on. They’re solar lights. They come on at night so we can use our garden until those lights go off, if we want.
[00:13:50] PF: Right. Nighttime garden. I really love that because you’re also getting all the Biophilia benefits of just like grounding and earthing, being in that soil, and the way that it connects you to the energy of the earth.
[00:14:07] JD: Yes. There’s something to be said about that first tomato that you find or that first blossom that opened or watching people come through my garden with their kids and the joy they find when they go into the coop and get an egg, or they see a bird they’ve never seen before just perched on an arbor. It’s amazing. When anyone, an adult or a child runs their hand through the mint, and they can just smell that aroma, and they’re just shocked that you can eat that, but it’s growing outside. You know what I mean?
[00:14:40] PF: Yes. I remember years ago being in Cabo, and we were eating at a restaurant, and we were living in Dallas, pretty urban, and we’re at this restaurant in Cabo, and the chef opens a window and reaches out and picks a sprig of mint and takes it in for our meal. We’re like, “That would be the coolest thing ever, just to walk out and pick the stuff for your food.” Now, we’re doing that and it is pretty amazing to just be able to walk out and pick your meal.
[00:15:11] JD: Oh, the kids love it the most, I think. They can pick a flower and put it in iced tea or their water. Like nasturtium or mint, and they just get a kick out of it that it’s not going to kill them, that they take something from the garden. It has to go back with teaching them when they’re young to grow their food and know where your food comes from. The moms that come, single moms come all the time and they just say how can I do this? We just give them the lesson, like this is what you just need to do. We’ll put it in one raised bed and go from there.
[00:15:44] PF: The day this release is also National Gardening Exercise Day. So, nice little tie in. Let’s talk about that for a minute, because it is great way to, in addition to connecting with the earth and calming your mind, it’s a great way to get physical exercise.
[00:16:01] JD: One hundred percent fantastic way, and you don’t even know your exercising.
[00:16:05] PF: That’s the key.
[00:16:06] JD: You have no idea. A few years ago, I had a pretty debilitating back injury. Two back surgeries, ended up with a spinal implant and sitting for me is the worst thing. But getting up and walking in the garden and being fluid and just lifting and pushing and pulling all of these things that you do, keeps me very active. It keeps me not pain free, but nearly pain free. It’s just amazing. You can go from one side of the garden to the other and do all of these activities within 20 minutes and never feel like, “Oh gosh, can I get through this cardio?”
[00:16:46] PF: Yes. It’s not like HIIT. But it does. It uses all the major muscle groups because you’re pulling, you’re raking, you’re weeding, you’re doing all these things. And you don’t realize it till the next day when you wake up and you’re like, “Oh, my God, why are my hamstrings” –
[00:16:59] JD: And squats have never been easier.
[00:17:01] PF: There you go. I love that. Yes, so that’s so cool. I think that’s a great aspect of it, too, is just the fact that it does give that physical movement that we try to get, but we feel like we can’t fit in to our schedule.
[00:17:17] JD: Yes, and you can. You can really do it. With gardening, when you plant a garden, you’re excited, especially new gardeners. You’re out there in the morning, you go out there midafternoon. If it rains, you run back out there. Every time you go back out there, you do something. Then, at nighttime, when it’s cooler, you go back out there. You could be in your garden as a new gardener, three to four times a day just from excitement, not realizing that every time you go, you’re going to pull weed, or swat down and plant something, or harvest something. You’re constantly active. You’re never still.
[00:17:51] PF: Yes. Then, with yours, when you created a place that’s so beautiful, and then at the end of the day, you can sit, you can watch it, you can just look at it. That too has a great calming mental effect. It just is so relaxing to be able to do that and sit there and that sense of accomplishment like we created this.
[00:18:10] JD: We added bench seating just throughout the garden. Then, we added a picnic table with an umbrella. We have a swing by our bird sanctuary, which we keep wild for nature. We just have different places to sit and rest, so you’re not always having to work or feel tired. You can always just relax and take it all in, especially in the evenings when it’s cooler. The birds are starting to calm down. It’s just different.
[00:18:34] PF: Yes. It does change throughout the day. So, you’ve helped other people start their own gardens, and you’re even going to Portugal next year to work on a big gardening project there, which is super cool. What changes do you see in the people you work with? When they start gardening, how does it change them?
[00:18:53] JD: One of the gardens we just put in for a friend of ours. She’s a single woman, she runs a daycare out of her home. Most of her kids are babies to four years old, and she asked us to come look so we went and looked and she only wanted two beds. Well, we ended up putting in six, and I helped her plant it. I did our planting plan for her. She just loved it. Now, when those babies come, when they’re dropped off at her house, they run outside with excitement because they want to know what’s growing. They help plant the seeds. It was just like the involvement and just showing someone that you can do it. It doesn’t have to be Instagram worthy. You can plant in a bucket. You can just do it. Just plant something and it’s contagious. You’ll start with one plant and you’ll end up with 50.
[00:19:43] PF: That’s cool. Because another project you’re doing and I don’t know a lot about it is in downtown Nash –
[00:19:50] JD: We’re working with a woman downtown and she is in charge of a men’s drug rehab facility and they put in some rooftop rice beds, and they’re doing it to give them purpose to build, to grow. I believe they have a chef that pulls the spices and the herbs and create stuff for them. But they get up and they have something that they’re in charge of. So, they’re growing basil or oregano or just whatever and it just helps them. That serotonin again in the soil keeps them happy.
[00:20:26] PF: That’s amazing. That’s a great way to go about it.
[00:20:29] JD: Back in the 1940s, well, before the 1940s, mental institutions or homes had gardens, and all of the patients work these gardens. They grew their own food, they went and cooked it, they did all this stuff. And rehabilitation was like, I believe, 65% to 75%. Then, pharmaceuticals came and they started to treat them with pharmaceuticals. Then, the gardens came out. They took the gardens away. Now, they’re trying to push gardens back in, because they realized that when you’re outside, you’re happier and you don’t need the pharmaceutical. You can just garden.
[00:21:08] PF: I love that. I hope that catches on because it is so – it’s such a lifeline for people. What about people who don’t have rolling acreage or any kind of acreage? If you’re in an apartment? If you’re in a in a townhouse? How do you go about starting your garden? Because your idea is you can grow plants anywhere. You can have your own garden even if it’s on a windowsill. So how do they start doing that?
[00:21:34] JD: All you need is soil, sun, and a seed or a plant. That’s it. That’s all you need. You can grow in a bucket, a box, a windowsill, as long as you provide those essential nutrients for your plants. Just water and you can grow anywhere. I would just say just plant the seed or buy the plant. If you fail the first time, just keep going. Don’t give up. You’re just trying to recreate nature.
[00:22:00] PF: Yeah, because I killed an air fern once in high school, in all honestly.
[00:22:04] JD: I can’t grow succulents.
[00:22:06] PF: Okay, good. I don’t feel so bad.
[00:22:09] JD: I try to love them too much.
[00:22:12] PF: That’s funny. Oh, man. I love this. I love this topic. I love being able to talk to you about it. You’re so knowledgeable about it. But what’s your favorite thing? You’re so passionate about gardening and everything that it does. What is your favorite thing about it?
[00:22:27] JD: Currently, because it changes. There’s always seasons. Currently, my favorite thing to do is to help one of our local nonprofits in Lebanon, Wilson County to put in school gardens. They put in a school garden and the teachers take care of it. Master Gardeners volunteer and take care of it. But the kids come out, and they weed, and they plant, and they take home the vegetables that they’re growing. But it’s really just the joy. It’s the joy of growing a plant and sharing your knowledge. Your knowledge could be this is how you grow a tomato plant, or this is when you pick it. It doesn’t have to be hard. It’s not hard at all. It’s just doing it.
[00:23:07] PF: Joeleen Davis, I appreciate you coming in. So what, of anything, what do you hope that people take away from this conversation?
[00:23:15] JD: That they can garden. You can plant. You can grow food. One tomato plant, you’ll have fresh tomatoes by June or July. You can do it. It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. You just need some soil and a seed.
[00:23:27] PF: I love it. Joeleen, thank you so much for talking with us. We’re going to tell everybody how they can find your website, find Wine Cottage Gardens, and learn more about you. But thank you. Thank you for sharing this time with us.
[00:23:38] JD: Thank you. It was wonderful.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:23:46] PF: That was Joeleen Davis, talking about the many benefits of gardening. If you’d like to learn more about Joeleen and Wine Cottage Gardens, or follow her on social media. Just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one