Nature Nearby: 'Don't Get Your Hands Dirty?' Are You Kidding Me?

Nature Nearby: ‘Don’t Get Your Hands Dirty?’ Are You Kidding Me?

  • Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.56.56 AMValerie Blaine is the nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. Her “Nature Nearby” column appears on Kane County Connects on the last business day of each month and provides a preview of upcoming nature programs for you and your family. You may reach her at

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.03.54 PM

“Don’t get your hands dirty!” Sound familiar? Most of us were told that we were kids. Maybe we’ve even given that scolding to our children. Now, research shows that we need to get our hands dirty. That is, we need to get our hands in the soil. It’s good for us on many levels.

People have long recognized that digging in the soil is good for heart and soul. In the late 1700s, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a groundbreaking psychiatrist and signer of the Declaration of Independence, prescribed “work in the garden as a curative for ills of the mind and nervous system.” The term horticulture therapy was coined in the late 1900s, and is based on the premise that connection with the earth both heals and makes us whole.

There’s a dimension of working in soil that Dr. Rush could never have imaged two centuries ago: the simple, un-electronic, non-digital nature of it. You don’t need a wireless connection, apps, or any device-gizmos out in the garden. In fact, you don’t even need a password! You can experience nature in ways far better than virtual reality.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.00.38 PM

Kids helping plant trees at National Public Lands Day, Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve, September 2014 Third shot: Family plant trees at Earth Day, Fitchie Creek Forest Preserve, April 2015

For many of us, life is made more frenetic by the very inventions that were supposed to make life easier. As one harried friend put it, “I have too many tabs open!” Part of the answer may be getting back to the garden. Research scientist Andrea Faber Taylor from the University of Illinois Landscape and Human Health Laboratory examined these effects of electronics-dominated life.

“We live in a society where we’re just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention,” she said in reference to the tyranny of tablets and texting and the like. She refers to this as attention fatigue.

To counter attention fatigue, Taylor asserts that we can revitalize our body and soul by being out in the natural world of plants and animals. Spending time in the garden or on a trail in the woods involves what Taylor calls “involuntary attention.” Most of us call this zoning out. It requires little effort, and it’s healthy. (Think of that — something healthy that is effortless!)

There’s a growing interest in our connection with land on another level as well. Soil — the good old garden variety soil — harbors a beneficial bacterium called Myobacterium vaccae. Neuroscientists have found that this microorganism is linked to serotonin levels, which in turn affect emotional health. Ongoing research brings new light to the effect of bacteria such as M. vaccae on emotions, behavior, and brain systems.

The bottom line is that getting your hands dirty is good for you.

  • FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Brownie scouts learn how to plant trees with Director of Natural Resources Ben Haberthur at Earth Day, Fitchie Creek, April 2014. All photos courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of Kane County.

Check Out These Awesome April Programs!

Nature_Blaine_ Adriane Strauser NPLD 2015

Volunteer Adriane Strauser helps plant trees at National Public Lands Day, LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, September 2015

There are plenty of opportunities to get your hands in the soil in the Kane County Forest Preserves. You can get started right away with these April programs:

Garden Workshops

Garden workshops begin this month at Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. In these fun and interactive programs, participants will learn about the natural and cultural impact of plants species that grow in our gardens. Participants will create their very own “garden-in-a-pot” to take home. All materials are provided. The fee is $10 per garden. Advance registration is required. Call 630- 444-3190 or email to register. Creek Bend Nature Center is located in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles.

  • Herb Gardens – 1- 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10
  • Flower Power –  1-2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24

Garden Geeks

Be part of the fun and volunteer at the native plant gardens at Creek Bend Nature Center. By helping maintain the gardens, you’ll learn about native plants in a beautiful setting. You can set your own schedule and work at your own pace. You’ll meet new people, learn about native plants, and experience the benefits of working outdoors. To learn more about becoming a “Garden Geek” volunteer, call 630-444-3190 or e-mail Creek Bend Nature Center is located in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles.

Earth Day Tree Planting

Join Forest Preserve staff and neighbors for our annual Earth Day Tree Planting! Help us plant 600 oaks. The holes are pre-dug. Volunteers simply place the tree, tamp down dirt, water, then mulch. It’s easy! This is perfect for groups or individuals. All ages are welcome. Be sure to arrive by 10 a.m. sharp. We’ll plant until 1 p.m. or until all trees are in the ground, whichever comes first!

  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 23, at Fitchie Creek Forest Preserve 39W933 Russell Road, Elgin
IMGP3164 Mandy ED Fitchie Creek 2014

Senior Ranger Mandy Morgan helps volunteers plant trees at Earth Day event at Fitchie Creek Forest Preserve, April 2014.