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IstockphotoThis winter has been utterly miserable, weather-wise—snowstorms, followed by several frigid days and ice-slicked sidewalks. Ive had it. The calendar may say it's spring, but the weather hasn't warmed up. Im taking matters into my own hands and getting a jump on this season of hopeful beginnings. I'm starting with gardening—here's how.

Force your soul to bloom: See some flowers
I visited the Philadelphia Flower Show last month to spring-ify my mood. The crowds were daunting, but the Italian-inspired gardens were treats for my winter-weary soul—even if the stunning displays with their color riots of flowering plants (Someone please tell me how you get roses, daffodils, irises, and azaleas to bloom at precisely the same moment!), immaculately-trimmed hedges, sculptures, ponds, fountains, and even a wildly painted 40-foot birch tree, would be impossible for any mere mortal to achieve. Still, it was a sweet hint of what spring will soon bring.

Im still aglow remembering how lovely it was to see all that botanical beauty. If theres a flower show or botanical garden in your neck of the woods, do yourself a favor and visit; your soul will thank you. Visit the Garden Clubs of America website to find out whats blooming near you.

Plant a pot garden
No, not that kind of pot. I mean, of course, the pots you fill with dirt and seeds, and plop down on whatever patch of outdoor space or windowsill you can call your own. I just succumbed to the lure of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog and ordered $50 worth of exotic red lettuces, sweet peas, Italian and Thai basil, cilantro, chives, purple tomatillos, multi-colored hot and sweet peppers, “black” cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, white Japanese eggplant, yellow Indian cucumbers, golden beets, and I think some purple string beans.

Just planning the planting—not to mention the harvest—instantly lifted my mood, and with any luck, my $50 investment should return me all the salads, salsas, ratatouilles, and stir-fries my family and I can eat. Im not enough of a math whiz to tally up what this will save me on my veggie purchases over the coming months, but I can tell you that growing my own means that all of us around here will be getting a lot closer to eating our ideal nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

PS: Check out this website for cool ways to recycle old tires into planters, and this article for the healthiest potted plants for your home.

Next Page: Gardening heals broken hearts, improves self esteem, counts as exercise [ pagebreak ]Gardening can heal a broken heart
You get more than just the joy of seeing pretty flowers or eating garden-fresh veggies when you plant, according to a 2005 study from the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University School of Medicine. Researchers there discovered that after touring a greenhouse and repotting a plant, people recovering from heart attacks and cardiac surgery were 53% less tense, 46% less angry, and 63% less tired than people in a control group who skipped the garden tour. Can re-potting a plant save your life? Well, just maybe: Its a well-known fact that depression and hostility can contribute to having a second, fatal heart attack.

Do the garden workout
Meanwhile, at Kansas State University, horticulture professor Candice Shoemaker, PhD, studies gardenings health benefits on seniors, adults, and children. She and her colleagues have discovered that gardening helps keeps people nimble and strong in several key ways: It builds hand strength, fulfills our daily ration for moderate activity, and improves self esteem. If you vigorously rake, hoe, and weed for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week, you can expect the same health benefits that other forms of physical activity offer, she says.

“If you think of gardening as exercise, many of us who feel like well never meet the physical activity guidelines for health will now have hope,” Shoemaker tells me. “Staying motivated to keep active is always a challenge, which gardening fulfills because the garden is continually changing, requires regular care, and provides tangible rewards—fresh produce, beautiful flowers, and a pleasant landscape to enjoy,” she adds.

Whats more, when you garden, your brain benefits too. Because its a source of quiet and tranquility, gardening induces peaceful feelings, Shoemaker says. “Research shows that gardening, or being around plants, can reduce stress,” she says. “Studies with people experiencing different kinds of stress (prisoners; college students studying for an exam; patients in pain, oncology wards, or surgery recovery; or those in negative work environments) show that plants can either lower the amount of stress people experience, or can help them recover from stress more quickly.”

Right after I send in this blog, Im going outside to plot out where all my veggie pots are going to go. Who knows, maybe by July Ill be able to open my own sidewalk farm stand—and be fit enough to feel good in my bathing suit.