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!

Merry Christmas: Here’s to Planting the Seeds of Celebration

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Several years ago my husband and I pruned off the old Christmas Eve celebration I’d participated in annually with my family. To some this may seem harsh, but I’m a gardener and am optimistic about such things, because change is good, and it almost always means growth and renewal in a garden.

An unfinished felt cactus ornament on one of the many houseplant holiday trees with our first real Christmas tree behind it.

Gardening has taught me that you can use many of its lessons in your own life and that the values found in each and every one of these lessons can add a rich hue to your life that is as enriching as any organic fertilizer.

Our first vintage Christmas has added immensely to the holiday feeling on our urban street.

Good pruning is about learning how a plant grows, knowing its needs, anticipating them, and then creating a plan to foster the best growth based upon this knowledge.

Playing with more materials.
We can use this system for people too, and performing these tasks on our own lives is commonplace whenever we hit a wall, but I want to posit that you should do it seasonally—just as you would do for your garden plants.

For we also have our own seasons for growth, and traditionally, many of us have grown during the dark winter months in unexpected ways as we plant the seeds of celebration with those we appreciate having in our lives.
The table was set for 14 this Christmas Eve and much merriment was made.

It is for these people we give thanks, and as we celebrate, we support one another. At this time of year we are allowed to close our eyes and let go knowing that we have people in our lives who will catch us if we fall, and they will feed us if we are hungry, or they will give us water if our soil is dry, and best of all, they give us the light we need to survive and to keep going—but we must provide light for them too and you cannot do so if you are not at your best.

First Amaryllis to rebloom. I did it! Whew!

The most difficult part though is that we must reexamine our own lives as the new year is upon us, and we must measure our growth, take stock in our stores, and we must rejuvenate ourselves with a light pruning.

The Amaryllis was much taller this year than last year. 

This is how many of us are able to avoid that gnawing depression which can eat at our roots and rot us to our innermost core. If we do not prune, taking into consideration what is best for ourselves, what will give us the greatest integrity to grow our strongest, we will weaken over time.

My first giant floral installation.

Sometimes you’re the seed that fell upon foreign ground, growing up in an environment that couldn’t allow you to be your best. Often, you weren’t in your best light and you never bloomed much, kind of like a lot of houseplants I know who struggle to do what they can in far off foreign places.

My Christmas Day reading arrived in the mail on Christmas Eve.

Unlike houseplants we can get up though, dragging our weakened roots behind us, and we can wander until we’re able to find the home where we’re meant to grow, blooming repeatedly, living in an environment that no longer threatens our growth.

So this season, if you are feeling a bit alone in the Wilderness, I want to wish you the best and let you know you’re not the only one. I also want to encourage you to dust off your shovel and pruners a bit and revisit what it means to be you. If you’re not ready yet to move on, at least trim off what you’re able to let go of and take a good hard look at your roots. Make the adjustments needed and just like a plant in your garden, return to the problem in a few months time to reconsider your options.

I did it and survived and this Christmas was one of the best I’ve ever had simply because I felt free to be who I really am.

Happy Holidays!