Mar 5, 2018
by Heidi Freestone
There is the classic idea of the garden as a sanctuary — restorative, with paths to wander, nature to contemplate, butterflies and hummingbirds providing a distraction as they fly among colorful flowers, the gentle sound of water, a sheltered, life-affirming place. My neighbor finds the seat by our tiny pond the perfect place to practice her daily meditation. My boyfriend assesses a garden’s appeal by how many sets of trees are a hammock’s width apart, but I believe the best escape from reality comes from the tending of a garden.
A dash out into the garden to collect a few mint leaves for tea can expand into a startling “I was out therethat long?” when a person pauses for a moment to pull a few weeds, here, right by the path, and then that one just over there, and then another. It is a few moments’ escape from reality, and yet, while gone, the person made a positive difference, small but real. And, as anyone who has pulled weeds knows, they are always willing to reappear to provide more diversion.
We laugh, but I believe that they are eminently restorative, those moments when we leave behind concerns, serious and large, and focus on dirt, water, and plants. We are also affecting a change in a living system — which is what a garden is, no matter how small. Sowing basil seeds in a pot to place on the porch, devising a cover that excludes birds but not water and the sun, putting the pot on small rocks in a flat basin of water to outwit slugs and snails, requires care, energy, and attention. We are participating in a grand reality, and if we are distracted by quotidian concerns and never return to continue our participation, all will continue on without us, algae growing in the basin of water, drifting seeds of willow or thistle finding a home in the pot, squirrels discovering that the mesh strawberry basket cover is actually removable.
Life will go on, with or without us, is what time in a garden can show us.
Having been both a maintenance gardener and a designer I have come to believe the creation of a landscape, no matter how lovely, thought out, and grand is not as significant as the care it receives afterward, as it becomes a garden, a living system. The satisfaction and respite a garden provides are directly proportional to how much time, attention, and nurturing care is devoted to that piece of ground. The beauty in this is that this refuge is more democratically available, and much better for people’s health, than many other escapes from reality, although even gardening can be used to excess, as anyone with a sore back from pruning too many rose bushes in one day knows. However, tending a garden does not have to be energy intensive. Slower and more contemplative work can be very rewarding, giving us even more time away in our horticultural shelter.
The ingredients for a haven for gardening are few since the actual rewards, mental and physical, come directly to the gardener from the energy spent. I wish that everyone who would want it had access to a sheltered site with uncontaminated soil, some shade from trees or a structure, a place to sit, plants, and a little water. But a tiny strip of neglected earth alongside an apartment building, or the thinly landscaped area surrounding an office parking lot, can be nurtured. Water can be carried, seeds can be sown, soils can be healed. Clipping branches that are over-taking a sidewalk, pruning or staking a leaning shrub, raking smothering leaves off of small plants and using those leaves to create a moisture retentive mulch for shrubs absorb nurturing energy that is returned as a balm for the spirit.
“When we nurture a garden no matter how small we nurture our spirit, which is as large as us all.”
Heidi Freestone - Gardener and author of ‘Growing Home’ and ‘Not Quite Happily Ever After’, novels for food and garden lovers, set in Sonoma County. http://www.heidifreestone.com/
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