A few years ago, when I went in for my yearly check-up (okay, I’m not that good. It had been a couple years since I’d been to the doctor), I was a bit surprised to see that I had high blood pressure. The doctor said that it wasn’t at a super concerning level, but that I should search for ways to relax, and be sure to engage in healthy living habits. He gave me a list of activities that are supposed to be soothing and help lower blood pressure. I looked at the list skeptically. Meditation, yoga, exercise, gardening. If I was overly stressed, it was because I was low on time. Trying to make time for this extra stuff wasn’t going to help anything.

Daniel NovakBut over the next few days I became aware of how much time I spent doing absolutely nothing productive. A disturbing amount of time was spent lamenting my lack of time to get things done. But I wasn’t doing anything. I looked at the list again. All of these items were things that I could do while still contemplating other things. I remembered back to my high school track days. I had always been able to let my mind wander on my morning runs. Maybe that was what I needed — an activity that allowed me to get something done but still also let my thoughts roam. Perhaps they would roam more productively.

I’ll admit it. I didn’t start working out after that. The thought of working out made me feel good for a couple of days. Then it started making me feel horrible because I hadn’t followed through. Then I stopped thinking about it and went back to my day-to-day activities. Life went on, and every time I thought about my blood pressure, it probably experienced a little spike.

Then spring came. The grass started growing, and my lawn started to need attention. I was looking into my backyard and thought that maybe I would plant some shrubs, since the yard was looking a little sparse. Yard work is supposed to be good for you, so maybe I could get some healthy activity done while making my yard look better.

Then I made the mistake that has probably had the most positive impact on my life out of all the other choices I’ve made. I went to the home and garden store to get some supplies and a couple plants. What I didn’t know is that I was entering my new second home.

I had looked up a couple things about landscaping before I went to the store. Certain plants did better in certain soils, look for native plants, blah blah blah. I had helped my mom in the garden when I was a kid. I had helped friends with landscaping projects before. I could figure it out.


Having never actually planned a landscaping project, I ended up standing in the store’s greenroom staring at my options for quite some time. I denied several offers of assistance before finally saying. “I’m looking for … plants? To put in my … backyard?” I felt like a self-conscious teenage girl. I was sure the attendant was judging me, thinking, “What is this guy even doing here? He doesn’t have a clue.”

But she wasn’t. The nice lady had dealt with probably 100 other people every month who were just as clueless as I was. She started asking me questions. “What kind of soil is in your yard?” “Um…” “What color is it? Does it feel like sand, or is it more gravelly?”

She asked me a million questions. How much time did I plan on spending on maintenance? Did I want a flowering bush or just something green? I had to think. I had to make decisions. I had to buy something instead of giving up. She was that awesome.

That weekend I dug up a corner of my lawn. I drank a lot of water. I planted my newly acquired shrubbery. I gave it the proper amount of water, as well as putting down the special soil I had purchased. I stepped back and admired my work. Then my eye was drawn to a section of my lawn to my right. It looked kind of shabby comparatively.

That whole summer I kept coming up with yard projects. I planted trees. I put flower beds against my house. I replaced my front sidewalk with stepping stones shaped like paw prints. My creativity was sparked, and the completion of one project always led to the anticipation of the next one.

I started reading about gardening. It was too late to start a garden, but I could prepare for next year. I read about which plants benefitted each other. I spent weeks trying to find the perfect tomato cage. I had caught a disease, and it was saving my life.

Okay, that last line was a bit cheesy. Don’t worry. I didn’t start dating the lady from the plant store or anything else rom-com like. But I did have an amazing summer, and it has led to me having a beautiful yard, a productive garden, and a great way to reduce stress in my life.

So for those who say that they don’t have time to garden, I say yes. It is a lot of work. It is a time commitment. But it’s a great way to bring beauty and relaxation to the stressful world we live in.

Daniel Novak is a writer and lifelong learner. He maintains a vegetable garden and several flower beds and is always looking for new ways to add plants to his home. Because of this, he has a shameful amount of indoor and outdoor plant stands.

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Photo provided courtesy of Daniel Novak.

My journey to a peaceful garden
Daniel Novak explains how a diagnosis of high blood pressure turned him into a gardening aficionado.