One of my favorite activities is working in my garden; it is also a vibrant place to meditate, often visited by various winged and four-legged creatures. Being in nature, touching the soil and creating a living landscape is healing in a way that is like nothing else. The very fragrance of the soil, the textures of the barks and foliage of green plants, the aromatic flowers, all are a work of art that is soothing to the spirit.
Gardening is a creative work, all in magnificent 3-D. The pallette you have to work with includes textures, colors, shapes, sounds and scents. You can plant for wildlife, or for butterflies. Rain gardens are a beautiful way to deal with runoff from the roof, while recharging the local water table instead of sending rainwater down the city sewer system.
Granted, all this may not work for you if you don’t like gardening. Even if you love the idea of gardening, and perhaps have some experience or helped your mother or grandmother in the garden when you were a child, it is important that it not be a chore. The easiest first mistake is to take on too much, and find that instead of being a stress relief you are stressed because the goals you set are unrealistic.
Rather than end up with a stressful responsibility that has become overwhelming, it is far better to enjoy a potted plant or a single container garden on the patio, or a hanging planter or two by the walkway to greet you with their cheerful color, than to stress out over a large garden that has run to weeds due to lack of available time.
Keep it simple, start small… Or even, start tiny, even indoors with a little terrarium, or a potted group of cactus. One plant that I consider important to keep in the house is an aloe plant. It is hardy, doesn’t mind indoors as long as the humidity doesn’t get too low, and is a wonderful medicinal herb for minor burns, scratches and bruises. Another fun idea, especially if you love to cook, is to keep a small window herb garden. For more information on growing your own kitchen herbs, check out the Organic Gardening website with a great web page on growing herbs indoors.
A garden is a way to connect with nature, to slow down and be in the moment, and restore a sense of self in the noise and haste of the modern urban environment. Leave the phone and other noisemakers and distractions inside. Get a break from computer screens, TV screens, hand-held device screens and relax your gaze to take in a wider view. If you’ve ever suffered chastisement in school from indulging in the simple pleasure of looking out the window at beautiful clouds, you know what I mean.
My avocation is natural areas restoration; I am a member of a not-for-profit group that is working to set aside natural areas for wildlife habitat. We restore these areas as close as possible to their pre-settlement condition, with native plants and clean waterways. Of course, once the native plant community returns, the wildlife shows up in abundance. You may enjoy creating an ecosystem in your yard that not only features native plants, but will attract wildlife such as endangered butterflies, dragonflies, and birds. The National Wildlife Federation website has great information on how to create wildlife habitat in your yard or community. Again, be realistic and take things in small bites; this is a process. If nothing else, nature encourages us to slow down, take our time to enjoy. Take on too much and we soon fall into stress and anxiety over arbitrary, ultimately unsatisfying goals that we have set for ourselves. You know what Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
If you live in an apartment and don’t have garden space, you may want to consider joining in with the local community garden – or start one. The local community or neighborhood garden can also provide, if you wish, an opportunity to enjoy the benefit of social interaction.
Gardening provides a sense of accomplishment – that is, if we’ve not overwhelmed ourselves with too much to take care of. Not only that, but there is great satisfaction in growing our own vegetables, fruits and fresh herbs. There is no fruit or vegetable in the supermarket, however much money is paid out, that will compare with your home-grown, lovingly cared for vegetable. No matter that it may be a simple container-grown cherry tomato. For a great article on the best tomatoes for container growing, check out what Colleen Vanderlinden has to say, based on her personal experience.
There is even a movement called “geo-sense” gardening coming out of Europe. The idea is to design home gardens to provide stress relief. The tradition has deep roots, according to an article by Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont. The ancient gardens of great civilizations of Egypt, Persia and China were designed to bring nature into their urban environments. Dr. Perry’s article contains ideas to incorporate into your garden to make it an environment – a mini ecosystem – that is designed for serenity.
In traditional Japan, the garden was an expression of Zen philosophy. In an article on the Japanese Garden website, Dr. Koichi Kawana explains the philosophy behind traditional Japanese garden design. The Helpful Gardener website is another great website describes the traditional Japanese Garden, and its underlying Zen philosophy.
The garden, whether it is a large plot or a simple miniature ecosystem in a container, embodies many things; spiritual philosophy, connectedness with nature, a living artistic creation, being grounded with our hands literally in the dirt, growing and providing ourselves and loved ones with our own superb food. All these things are the bounty that nature provides – freely given, asking for just a little touch of loving hands.
If you enjoy gardening, tell us about your experiences, and whether or not you find gardening to be relaxing. Do you find it a challenge to find the time you want to work in the garden? Have you been challenged by trying to do too much? How do you balance the enjoyment with the work needed to keep your garden in good shape? Are you an “au natural” gardener, or do you prefer a neat and orderly design? Does it seem to bring you closer to nature, or even to a meditative, spiritual experience?
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