OTTAWA -- Summer is almost here and it's a perfect time to get your hands in the soil.

Gardening is a safe activity for people of any age during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Ottawa is slowly opening back up, there are still benefits to staying home and getting into a garden can help ease some of the boredom and stress of pandemic living. spoke with Sarah Shapiro, a horticultural therapist at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre and an avid gardener. She shares some tips and advice about getting the most out of your garden.

Mental health benefits

"Gardening works with the body, mind, and soul," Shapiro says. "It provides intellectual, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and creative benefits. For those self isolating, gardening can provide a sense of reality, and meaningful activities to look forward to each day and reduce stress and anxiety."

Shapiro says it's never too late to learn how to grow your own plants.

"Everyone has a green thumb. Whether you start early or you're 100 years old, you can always learn," she says. "You can grow in your back yard or even in your room."

Her best advice for beginners is to start with plants that don't require a lot of maintenance like amaryllis.

"At Perley Rideau, our residents grow amaryllis in their rooms and it's a source of fun and even bragging rights for them," she says.

Fun for the family

"Gardening is a great social activity for the family," Shapiro says.

Growing a garden can involve everyone from parents to children. Shapiro suggests finding activities that each member of the family can handle, and to spend time together working on it.

"One member of the family can water, one can be in charge of weeding," she says. "It's social for the whole family, and can develop an awareness for the environment."

Apartment gardens

You don't need a back yard to grow your own plants and get the benefits of gardening, Shapiro says. Potted plants and herbs are great for apartments.

"Herbs especially are easy to grow and you can then use them for cooking," Shapiro says.

Other plants to consider include snake plants, spider plants, or aloe vera.

"You can start from seeds if you want, but that does require some patience," she says. "You can also ask a friend for a cutting to get started."

She says patience is the key. Gardening is something that takes time, but it can be an activity to look forward to every day.


If you're worried about pests, like insects, Shapiro recommends a natural pesticide made from garlic, onion and cayenne pepper.

"You may need to apply it more often than a commercial pesticide, but it won't harm you or your plants," she says.

You can find a recipe here.

What if it doesn't work out?

Your plants may not work out the first time, but the important thing is to be kind to yourself.

"Don't be too hard on yourself if something doesn't grow," Shapiro says. "Gardening is about finding beauty not only in plants but in the imperfections of every day life. It's meant to be messy."

She says to experiment as much as you can with different plants. Maybe the one you tried is not for you.

"Sometimes plants choose you," she says.


To find out more about Sarah Shapiro, check out her Facebook and Instagram pages

Shapiro recommends checking out these local resources for tips and ideas: