My mother had chronic poor health her entire life, including as a child. She spent a lot of time alone, recuperating from one thing or another, often reading a book, or drawing, in her uncle’s enormous garden, which she described as a magical world of plants, birds, butterflies and critters. A refuge and sanctuary. Later in life, she would have her own small garden. I didn’t really get it when I was a child, but I did love to be out there with her. Today, I’m discovering gardening for myself, and how healing and meditative it is.
This summer was my first living in a house that I own, and my taking control of the environment began outside. I have a nice-sized yard, not too big or small, and I knew I wanted a garden.
First I did my research, and consulted gardening friends. Then I painted my garden shed (it used to be white with blue trim), and set up my first garden, a combination of raised bed for vegetables, several flowerbeds, and half a dozen pots.
I was out of town when I learned of my brother’s accident, and in those first anguished texts to friends, the one thing I asked for is that someone please water my garden.
I came home a few days later and spent that entire week trimming all the hedges that surround my property with hand clippers. I clipped every day for a couple of hours before and after work. One of my neighbors finally offered to lend me her electric hedge trimmer, but I declined, despite my hands and wrists being sore. I found it cathartic to snip the bushes manually. It was my way exerting a tiny bit of control, and releasing a little of my anger.
In the subsequent weeks, I’ve been mildly obsessive about the garden. I’m out there every morning with Ruby, checking on the plants, talking to them, encouraging them, weeding and watering them, adding support to the tomatoes, pruning their leaves.
When I’m working in the garden, I’m not thinking about anything else but the plants. I love putting my hands in the earth, the feeling of cool, moist soil, teeming with the little bugs and worms. It’s like feeling Life itself.
I love watching the plants grow and develop. It’s a slow process which requires patience, but if you pay attention, you do notice differences day to day. Especially after it rains, which it’s been doing a lot lately. And, of course, eating anything you grow is nothing short of miraculous.
Equally fascinating is how the plants react not only to the weather, but also to different environments… some better in pots, others better in soil, and still, others, seem to thrive when next to other plants, or when they’re moved to a different spot.
My basil was near death until I moved it into a larger pot; now it’s as big as a bush. My mint was fragile and gangly until I moved it to the garden bed. Now it’s lush and healthy.
The process inspires me with hope.
I feel connected to the plants, like we have a relationship of sorts. I sense that they have some kind of consciousness, and they like being attended to. Sometimes I gently run my fingers over their leaves, just to let them know that I’m here.
I love inspecting the flowers and herbs. This one looks like a piece of art to me. I still can’t get over how beautiful it is.
Occasionally, I pick them and bring them inside. I send photos of the bouquets to my sister and sister in law… “virtual flowers for you.”
It turns out there is such a thing as gardening therapy. As this article about Horticultural therapists points out, “research has shown that the flexible nature of gardening projects allows service users to feel empowered in a non-threatening space. It also helps develop nurturing skills and is thought to boost mindfulness, as well as increasing serotonin and dopamine levels.”
It makes total sense. Gardening is nurturing. Expressive. Creative. It’s also a community. I’ve made new friends, mostly older than I am, who are avid gardeners. They give me advice, and they give me plants, both (I’ve discovered) part of the tradition of gardening.
Now I have to think of what to do with my brother’s ashes, where to put them in the garden. I’m thinking of planting a tree or bush, but not sure which one yet.
In the meantime, I’m already starting to think about how I’ll do things differently next year, where I will move plants, which ones I will give away, and which ones to buy new. It’s nice to have something to look forward to.
Do you have a garden?