Why are gardens so universally healing? This morning, after
harvesting sun-ripened peaches, Japanese finger eggplants, heirloom tomatoes, kale, sunflowers and more, I felt profound gratitude. Truth is, I still live in awe of seeds. How a bland black/brown seed planted last spring emerges as an seven-foot tall branching sunflower amazes me. That’s even after the deer dropped by for a gourmet meal and topped off their first flower heads. Nothing stops their exuberant growth!
I first discovered the power of a garden after being diagnosed with my first aggressive breast cancer many years ago. While healing from surgery and chemo, I began restoring a neglected three-tier rock garden. I chose perennials, probably because they live for many seasons. It’s a welcome image in the midst of cancer treatment.
An Abundance of Beauty
Then when our daughter Krista died on a sunny May morning, we plunged into the deep winter of sorrow. The one bright moment each day was seeing what new shoots or blossoms came forth in the garden. To watch an elegant bronze French tulip wave in the wind, see a star magnolia unfurl, or taste a tart Concord grape from a 50-year-old vine inevitably gave my heart a lift. Life does continue to unfold with beauty, I sensed, and seeds of hope slowly took root. Environmentalist John Muir’s quote that “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul” seems as true today as in the 1800s.
The Rituals in each Season
I also love the rhythm of rituals that gardens inevitably create….such as baking a peach pie the day they ripen on the tree. The ancient words “There is a time to sow and a time to reap” shape a gardener’s or cook’s days. Whether making spring’s strawberry shortcake or jam, summer’s gazpacho soup or basil pesto, or autumn’s baked apples, I find working with the earth’s seasonal offerings somehow gives a gentle inner peace. After our harsh winters, I can hardly wait for our farmer’s market to open. Fall wouldn’t feel complete without our annual family drive to Green Bluff to pick apples. Many persons savor such seasonal rhythms and rituals, and memories of special meals often sharpen our longings for home when away. This year I experimented with an internet recipe called Mama Thorton’s Peace Pie Recipe…with almond and cinnamon. It clearly deserves its five star rating! If you like to bake, you can find it at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/anne-thornton/mama-thorntons-peach-pie-recipe.html. On a hot afternoon, I did it the lazy way by just rolling out a prepared pie crust.
Gardening connects us to neighbors and communities
After harvesting in the morning, I brought some hot red peppers to Meredith, an adventuresome young cook on our lane. She offered me some zucchini and green beans. Since I don’t grow them, I actually welcomed the zucchini (rare, I know). I wanted to try an excellent recipe our daughter Susan created when we recently visited in Boston. The sun filtered into her garden as her two-year-old son Marshall stopped playing long enough to taste a fresh pea from a pod. “Yummy,” he announced as he asked for more. It was a golden moment, seeing a mom assuring that her child experiences the miracle of a fresh pea, pausing to enjoy friendship, and feeling connected to a daughter 3000 miles away as I imagined recreating her recipe. These daily encounters that gardens encourage feel ripe with goodness, especially during these days of disturbing global news.
Winter’s Quiet Renewal
A close friend and the most passionate gardener I know is now undergoing complex treatments for melanoma. For my birthday, she gave me a garden sign that says “Garden as though you will live Forever.” In her own treatment and healing, she knows that the garden will stay central for solace and soul nurturing. Yet, by summer’s end, we both welcome the reality that our cold Inland Northwest climate gives us a pause from gardening. We know that the season of dormancy also offers a time of unseen renewal. Plants continue to be nurtured in their invisible underground soil. When we need to live patiently while enduring a life-altering loss, or when illness forces us to face, even trust, an unseen future, there’s comfort in knowing that quiet renewal is possible.
Gardening inevitably has times of disappointment. I think of one summer where an infestation of aphids decimated some potted vegetables, a hungry deer devoured lilies and hostas, and a surprise freeze ruined a healthy crop of heirloom tomatoes. Such reality leads us to becoming adaptable and persistent when obstacles emerge.
One doesn’t even need a garden to discover the healing power of plants. With all of the indoor herbal gardens now available for apartment dwellers, raised beds being offered at local community gardens, and the possibility of vegetables growing in container pots (that’s how I do most of ours), almost everyone can experience such wonder even with very limited space.
Have you found gardens healing for you?