Dogs and Gardens …… And Mental Health

– Posted in: Garden Design

***** After a summer hiatus,  Picture This Photo Contest will be returning in September with a great judge. Keep a look out!! Would you mind taking a moment to go onto Picture This’ Facebook page and ‘like it’? Thanks….Fran

A few weeks ago, Dogs Provide Owners Greater Mental Well-Being, an article in the Living Section of The Wall Street Journal, caught my attention.

Although the majority of dog owners would agree that they love their dog without a blink of the eye, I’ve heard non-believers say everything from ‘Why would you want a dog….they’re such a responsibility and make a mess’ to ‘Well, I guess they’re’ worth it if you have kids.’

vertical pictures of dogs

A new study has come to the conclusion that dogs do have a positive impact on  their owners.

Molly 2

Here are the results.

Pet owners enjoyed greater well-being compared to the non-owners; they were less fearful and obsessive.
Dog owners were less depressed, lonely, had higher self-esteem, were happier, and tended to experience less perceived stress when they relied on their dog for social fulfillment.
For dog owners, thinking about pets was as effective as thinking about friends in staving off the stress of loneliness

As a dog owner of 3, I can attest to the power of these little four legged beings. Although I didn’t live with a dog until I was 30 something (it was my daughter’s), today I can’t imagine being without them.

Photos on 32211 016

.Molly was sold to me first because she was the runt of the litter. The breeders from Arizona, 2 brothers, who owned both Sassey and Molly, called me when Sassey was being put out to pasture 6 months after I got Molly. She was no longer show dog material. Of course, I had her sent to me. How could I not? She was Molly’s sister after all.

And finally, after my mother died, I bought Jacob, who is related to Molly and Sassey and is rambunctious to put it mildly, to help ease my father out of his mourning. He succeeded at doing that….and much more!


Photos of dogs in order: Molly, Sassey, Jacob

Although my book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, along with some other books and articles, discuss how the act of gardening has the potential of giving meaning to an individual’s life, I began to wonder if the larger gardening community shares these feelings. And are there any studies that statistically show the broader,  social benefits of gardening on the mental health of humans? (similar to the one done on dogs).

purple pink roses up close-53106

I can only speak for myself….. I have a relationship with my plants. I nurture them and they nurture me. When I’m lonely or sad, I work in my garden. When I’m ebullient and full of joy, I often go to the garden; sometimes just to experience a sense of spirituality. And these friends of mine are always there for me, regardless of my emotions.

1-cutting garden-early spring-close up

When I sold my house a couple of years ago, I was surprised at how easy it was to lock it up, leave the key under the mat, and bid adieu. When I walked through my garden for one last time though, I tried to hold back my tears when I said good bye. Crazy as it may sound, I silently talked with the plants about how they would always be with me, how I knew they were strong, and even told some of them to take care of the weaker ones. Did they feel my emotions? My heart tells me yes.

top bed-spring-with peonies

In my new rooftop garden, I have a budding relationship with my plants. Each morning when I go out to water, deadhead, and putter around, I say ‘Good Morning guys. How are you?’ Think I’m a bit eccentric? Perhaps. But I can only attest to the fact that gardening and dogs are a significant part of the happiness and ‘soulfulness’ in my life.

How about you?


Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
8 Comments… add one

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Lisa at Greenbow August 26, 2011, 9:01 am

Yes to both questions. I love both my dog and garden. I talk to both and both give much more than I would ever ask for.

What a beautiful phrase…’give much more than I would ever ask for’….glad to hear that there’s another ‘talker’out there. Fran

Ginny August 26, 2011, 9:05 am

Oh, yes, I so agree that dogs and gardening are a significant part of my happiness. My sweet dog died about six weeks ago. It was sudden (stomach torque). My husband isn’t so sure, but I believe we’ll welcome another dog into our lives. And gardening – it feeds my soul in ways I can’t even describe.


I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your dog. It’s like losing someone from your family. After my first dog, Milo, died unexpectedly, I went to visit friends in Phoenix for Christmas. Just for the heck of it, their sons and I went to some breeders to check out Aussie terriers (I guess my unconscious really knew what it was doing). Lo and behold, I ended up bringing a 1 1/2 year old runt of the litter home with me on the plane because the owners didn’t want her…she wasn’t a show dog. Molly filled the emptiness left by Milo immediately…yet to this day, my children and I talk about Milo…knowing that no one will ever replace him. When you’re ready, you’ll get a new dog. How blessed you are that gardening fills your soul. Fran

professorroush August 26, 2011, 10:50 am

Well, I’m a veterinarian and a gardener, so you can guess where I stand on the issue. The healing power of pets is not new, as evidenced by the many programs where pets are brought to assisted living homes, children’s hospital wards, etc. Gardening is the same. Perhaps the effect is something just as simple as having another living thing beside us as we walk through life. Whether we talk to our plants or a pet, its the same stimulation and feedback.

Professor Roush,

Did you see the story on the news the other day about how a dog would not leave the side of his owner’s coffin during the ceremony? I think it’s not just having another human being beside us but one where there is an implicit mutual sense of nurturing. Thanks for your thoughts. Warmly, Fran

Freda Cameron August 26, 2011, 8:03 pm

I lost my sweet “gardening greyhound” in September 2010. She was my constant companion for my morning garden walks. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to adopt another dog….when I do, it will be another rescued racing greyhound.

Charm was a beautiful dog. After seeing photos of her and your garden, I can imagine how it must have been having her by your side. I know some folks who have had rescued racing greyhounds. They are supposed to be incredible gentle and intelligent. You’ll know when it’s the right time to adopt a new dog. Fran

Cathy August 27, 2011, 6:41 am

We share our gardens with bees, butterflies, and four Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Our pets who have died all repose under special plants or shrubs in the garden.

Both our dogs and our gardens bring peace, joy, and comfort to our lives. We start and end most days in the gardens, and our dogs spend many hours a day there as well.

As for the ability of dogs and gardens to heal, my husband is a child psychiatrist with a home office so his patients experience both. Each of his patients has a favorite dog and many enjoy wandering in the garden after appointments. It is a special joy to see an autistic child bond with one of the dogs or stop to smell one of the roses.

Like you, I talk to our trees, shrubs, and plants all the time. Call me crazy, but I talk to the fairies too. In addition to our dogs, we have nine large koi, all with names and very distinct personalities, and I was just outside explaining to them about the hurricane that is heading our way.

Personally, I think the very act of nurturing other living things elevates us as humans and enriches our lives and our psyches.

Why am I not surprised that you have 4 King Charles Cavalier Spaniels? And I thought I was out of the ordinary with 3….you’re my kind of lady.

What a unique and rich experience that your husband has a home office and brings the dogs, garden and patients together.

I concur with you about how the act of nurturing other living things takes our being to another level…what I would call a ‘state of grace’.

Ahhh…talking to the fairies…no, you’re not crazy at all. And why wouldn’t you talk with your kois about the potential hurricane (that thank goodness never happened).

You have created a multi-layered and extremely rich haven. You’re an inspiration for alot of us. Fran

the invisible gardener August 27, 2011, 6:51 am

my dog is the only friend i have. and watching him walk my gardens with me, it seems as if he knows it’s a special place.


Although I have friends and family, I frequently turn to my dogs for nurturing and support…rather than humans. You are lucky to have your dog…Warmly, Fran

Marilyn Kircus August 27, 2011, 11:01 am

I recently saw – but can’t remember where – an article that said the number one activity that would prodict the quality of one’s life in old age was gardening.

And I know that gardening promotes both physical and mental health – and these are chemically intertwined so physical health provides the chemicals needed for mental health.

And a person with pets also has will tend to live a longer and higher quality life. Pets make a perseon pay attention to meals, lower blood pressure when petted, are constant friends and confidents and help a person make new friends when they are walked. And the physical activity helps keep a person healthy also.

I am a full-time volunteer who lives at various national wildlife refuges. So I garden on a large scale and enjoy nature’s gardens. Idon’t have my own dog right now, but hope to again have one. But I dog-sit whenever I can.

I know I’m happiest when I’m outside. My current gardening is providing water to 400 trees volunteers planted this spring. I am also keeping the area around them weeded and cutting back invasive baccharis. I spend 3 – 12 hours a day on this job and love it. I feel stronger and younger than I did several years ago when I was much more sedentary.


It’s good to have you chiming in on this subject. You speak with authority….how wonderful that you’ve made the decision to live and work at various national wildlife refuges. Your intensive gardening is obviously ‘soulful…and I dare say that although it may be extemely hard work, it is a kind of play.r

Have you ever seen the story on TV about the wandering cat in an old age home? Whenever he knew that someone was getting ready to die, he would come to their room and stay with them until they had passed. Talk about intuition. Horses are supposed to be extremely sensitive to people’s feelings and psyches….and respond to them in a visceral manner.

Thanks for your words about the benefits of gardening. You are on target about the physicality of gardening releasing neuro-transmitters that literally transform our emotions. It doesn’t get much better than that…for those of us who garden and can’t imagine life without it. Fran

'nora August 27, 2011, 4:25 pm

I lost my Boo Dog (a golden) in September 2010 and was amazed at how much harder gardening was without him. He was one of those dogs who just wanted to be with the people, and was never a pest, but dang if it wasn’t weird and lonely trying to garden without him following me around.

Shortly after I lost him the country dismantled half my fence taking down a tree. I still don’t have that sorted out, but once I have a fence again I’ll definitely be getting another dog.

I’m sorry about the loss of your dog. Thanks for sharing your ecperience about missing the dog in your garden. Interesting that your fence was dismantled shortly after he died. I’m from the school of thought that nothing happens by accident. Am glad that you’ll be getting a new dog once the fence goes up…no doubt that it will give you a great deal of pleasure. Fran

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