One of the best gifts we ever gave Mom for Mother’s Day was a vegetable garden.

One of the best gifts we ever gave Mom for Mother’s Day was a vegetable garden.

Our little farmhouse in southern Illinois was on one flat acre surrounded by a hedge of multi-flora roses — they were quite the rage in those days, a living fence that was inexpensive to put in and kept growing.

They were high enough that my younger brothers could create pathways to neighbors; to the right Mrs. Futtrell and her pet milk cow; to the left the four “young cowboys” who worked the surrounding tree farm with their dad.

This one particular weekend, Dad packed us up in the station wagon and headed to a garden nursery, the list of Mom’s favorite foods we had surreptitiously collected tucked in my brother’s back pocket: artichokes, pomegranates, green seedless grapes, pineapple, chocolate.

We had recently moved back to the U.S. from Brazil and my brothers were fresh off the “discovery” that chocolate milk supposedly came from black and white cows so excitement was high to find out what produced these other favorites.

Although my mother at first was not into gardening as much as my Dad’s family had been, she loved the little patch we cleared to plant a few vegetables and was hooked on gardening ever since.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, and the end of the last frost in Missouri, there are several reasons why you should consider starting a garden:

Planting, digging, watering, weeding, mulching, combined with lifting, crouching and pushing can build strength, improve muscle tone, increase flexibility, burn calories and raise your heart rate. Do that moderately at least half an hour a day and you’ve met the minimum recommended daily exercise rate.

Chronic stress can contribute to a whole host of health problems. In fact, I read last week that as many as 90 percent of doctor’s visits are for symptoms that may have been prevented with lower stress levels. Gardening can help to lower blood pressure, decrease triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, improve chronic health conditions, and generally make you feel better and re-connected.

Dad started the garden because he said locally-grown fruits and vegetables were more nutritious. The longer produce sits around between when they are picked and when they reach your table, the more nutrients they lose. There’s nothing that tastes better than something you have grown with your own hands.

Gardening with kids is also a great way to get picky eaters excited about eating vegetables. Even the most finicky kids will be hard-pressed to resist spinach that they grew themselves, although I haven’t had the heart to tell my youngest brother yet that pasta really doesn’t grow on trees.

Happy Mother’s Day and happy gardening!

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@