Ending Garden Therapy

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Sunset from the front porch.
Gardens are therapeutic and gardening is admittedly a therapeutic activity. For almost 10 years I’ve been in treatment in the garden and that period of my life is now ending. We’ve all been there in one way or another, but in my case, I think it’s safe to say that the garden saved me and changed me.
From left to right: Mt. St. Helen’s, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. Adams. Before the age of 22 I’d climbed 10 mountains in the Pacific Northwest and Mt. St. Helen’s was the last on that list.

When my world seemingly closed, and I had to retreat to lick my wounds, it was the natural world and learning about plants that kept me attached to life. Sometimes, when I’d fly to CA to see my ex I’d often hide a few errant tears if I saw the mountains of the Pacific Northwest knowing that I could no longer hike or backpack in the forests that skirted them. My garden had become a surrogate for these adventures, but I still very much missed the real thing.

To heal that pain, I studied plants in books, purchased seeds to grow, and I sought out a few plant folks. This was not a replacement for the joy I’d once found in the beauty and solitude of the forest and in nature, instead it became a symbolic bandage meant to hold back the deep weeping emotional wound I’d developed. While my peers were out exploring during the spring and summer, I was at home, often so swollen I was unable to walk, and I’d read about the plants that others were able to physically go out to view.

Sometimes I’d feel like a caged animal and in retrospect those sobs that came out of my loneliness now seem more like howls for the wild as much as they were my cries for help.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Nike of Samothrace is a piece I find very inspirational.
It was the first piece of garden statuary I ever purchased.
Creating a refuge or a sanctuary was very important to me, and now, as I am set to fly, with a little nudge out of the nest, I look around before me at what I’ve created while my mind was so overwrought with blocking out the reality I was living, and I’m still so surprised by what I find.
I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen to me that the past 10 years have been the ugliest in my life. Yet somehow I stuffed every blank space around me with beautiful and rare plants. My brain keeps trying to tell me that I shouldn’t have been so escapist though, and that I should have been trying harder to work and to learn how to survive in the real world. My heart says that I did what I had to do to survive though, and between the two, I have no idea yet what I will do now to support myself, but part of me wishes I could be a garden therapist for someone else experiencing what I’ve been through. Few seriously ill people can afford to own their own gardens though and I know in my case it has been such a gift to have been able to have my own. My garden was the best medicine of all.
This was the backyard before we’d removed all of the grass about 6 years ago.
But I’m not really qualified to be a therapist, though I am a writer. That’s why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to share my experiences and I wanted to inspire those who were down to try to find the physical strength to at least try something that seemed to me as simple as planting a packet with a few seeds. Taking that first step can be difficult though for some people—even healthy ones. It started like that for me and it led to an entire world I’ve been able to live in but now it has to end, or shift, or change, or grow.
My plant labor-atory.  
More of my plant labor-atory.  

Ending therapy means ending a relationship. For me that still means leaving my garden, and although I am ready to do this if I really have to do so, I still have my doubts that it’s the best idea.

What began for me as therapy has grown into something else. I cannot extricate the experience of plants from who I am anymore. How plants will now figure into my plan I don’t know, but plants are my future.

An undated photo of my three cats under the willow arbor. Yes, they think they are too good to sit on the ground.

Like many other Americans I am living with a chronic illness that makes many forms of employment difficult. I too want to live with my dignity and this is challenging when daily you feel as though you are partially unreliable due to your condition and its symptoms. Finding flexible employment is not easy, but we all must make our way in life.

I’ve had to grow into accepting this as my life, and I am more than grateful for the reprieve that a new medication has given me. My life is almost normal now and the difficulties are far more manageable than ever.

But I cannot afford to own the garden that healed me and that is what I am faced with right now. To think of selling something that did so much for me is really difficult. It has been not only where I’ve enjoyed hiding, but over time—especially during the last year—it has been able to reintroduce me to the world and to more and more people, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting and speaking to all of the amazing plant-loving people I’ve met both here and in person.

Funny too that as much as I’d hoped for this post to be about not really knowing how to remake my life right now all I really want to say here now is that I hope this post inspires you to reach out to someone in your own life who might need your help right now. I am giving back to someone who almost lost her husband in a cycling accident recently and I know if you think hard enough you too can think of a friend, family member, or neighbor who might benefit from some garden help.

We really are all garden therapists when we reach out and get dirty for someone else.

Vive le jardin!

5 thoughts on “Ending Garden Therapy

  1. I've only recently discovered you and your blog, certainly not long enough to give solace or encouragement. Your posts are special. I hope you know that. All any of us can do is take one step at a time. Trite as it is, from where I stand at the edge of old age I do believe, it's all about the journey.

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  2. I don't know what to say. I think you are a strong person. All our gardens stay with us. That is why I called my blog MySecretGarden – it's not only my recent place, but also my previous garden and my mother's garden, and my grandmother'd garden.
    I love your garden laboratory and your three cats. Wish you the best!
    P.S. We just visited Mt.St.Helen after living 8 yeas in the PNW. What a place!

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