“The beauty of the art of gardening is in the involvement of mind, body and spirit.” –Hank Bruce from Gardening for the Senses, Gardening as Therapy
By Hollie Niblett
If gardening is an art, then those who bring that art to others for the sake of healing and growth are surely artists of their own variety. After all, it must take a special combination of personal suffering and creativity to point out the road to well-being in a flower, to see the path to healing in the sowing of a seed, to feel the deeper meaning behind weeding a garden bed (this is my plug for how rad horticultural therapists are).
But we aren’t all gardening artists and poets. Some of us may not see the connection. To enlighten those who may not have considered the possibilities, I have compiled a list of specific tasks that take place in a garden that can, with intentional thought and care, be imbued with more artistic, spiritual and emotional meaning. I will leave out the more obvious, physical benefits to gardening (increase in strength, dexterity, etc.), which we will cover in later posts.
Actually, I got this idea when I used to host weekly gatherings of some girlfriends of mine. We liked sitting on the front porch of my 100-plus-year-old house on summer evenings in Oklahoma, surrounded by my garden beds, swinging on the equally old porch swing and just chatting about life. After a while, when the fragrance of rosemary and mint emanating from around my porch became stronger, the topic would inevitably turn to my garden. After a drink or two, the thoughts on my garden would start waxing philosophic. This is when I started giving my “spiritual garden tip of the week,” my friends-of-the-porch being the only recipients, until now. Here are a few of my mojito-inspired tips:
- Deadheading. It’s an ominous word, but in the gardening world it just means pinching off the dead flower heads. If you don’t deadhead, say your geranium, cosmos or rose bush, name your flower here, you won’t get many new flowers, if any. The reason for this is that the plant doesn’t know the dead flowers are dead and just keeps trying to keep them alive on the end of that stem, sending that brown little crumbly thing as much water, nutrients and energy as if it were a beautiful new bud trying to bloom. The same can be applied to your life. If you don’t prune from your life what is no longer working, or what is not filling you with life, you are spending an enormous amount of energy trying to keep something alive that is only preventing new and beautiful things from making an appearance. Deadheading: it sounds scary but is absolutely essential.
- Planting a seed. It actually takes an enormous amount of faith to plant a seed, knowing in your heart of hearts that it will turn into something wonderful. Seeds are tiny, some even looking like dust. How do you know it will become a beautiful growing thing in your garden? You don’t know for sure, you sow it on faith and you hope for the best. There is only so much you can do to turn a spec of dust into a poppy, the majority of the work is done outside of your control or understanding. You sow and you have faith. Sometimes, that’s the very best you can do, and being at peace with that fact is a gift to yourself.
- Watering. Having worked in children’s gardens for quite some time, I can tell you from experience there is nothing, nothing kids would rather do than water the garden. You can bust your keezer coming up with the most creative lesson and activity around a pizza garden or something else totally awesome, and the whole time they will by eyeing the watering cans and asking when they can water. Kids know something very basic adults sometimes forget, nurturing something you love is the only way to make it grow. What do you love? Do you water it? Do you spend time on/with/around it? Or do you just think about watering it? Learn to water what you love and it will probably grow into a large and lovely presence in your life.
- Waiting. Yes, that’s right. For a really fertile, beautiful garden, you have to wait for it. It takes years to cultivate organic, healthy soil. It takes at least three years for perennials to come in full and lusty (the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they LEAP), the same for trees, bushes and well, inspiration along the way. It takes time. Does the road to your dream look too long? Too hard? Well guess what. You’re gonna be 19 or 27 or 35 or 52 or 70 in [insert number of years you think is too long to wait for or work for something] years anyway, so just go for it. Gardeners know, at a deep level, that the most luxurious, most satisfying, most lush, most amazing dreams and goals are the ones that took a lot of time. There just aren’t any shortcuts for the good stuff.
- Enjoying the bounty. There is almost nothing better in the whole wide world than to just observe and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You’ve earned it, after all. After you’ve done all the sowing, deadheading, watering and waiting, there comes a moment where you sit on your front porch with your girlfriends, drinking mojitos, smelling rosemary, mint and roses, and you know that life is beautiful, at least in this moment, at this time, it is perfect. Your labor may not have been of the garden variety, but it’s such a treat to just reflect on what’s right in your life. Your health, job, family, friends, home…there’s something. And, it turns out, the more you cultivate, the more bounty you have to enjoy.