Why I Garden
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
The gardening season is coming to a close and it is fitting that we close the summer with a gardening post. I haven't run a "Why I" post for a few months. This is a great post to return to posting on the joy people get from their hobbies, their work and their families.
Diane and I met a few years ago when we both trained to lead Shake Your Soul classes at the Kripalu Center. Over the past few years I have marveled at Diane's dedication to her garden and her ability to see the the best in the simple but meaningful tasks of the garden.
This is Diane's story. I hope that you enjoy it (and learn from it) as much as I did.
Why I Garden by Diane B
Gardening has been a favorite activity of mine since childhood, when I often saw my mother and grandmother working in the soil outside, often barefoot, touching the plants and bringing in apron loadsof colorful vegetables. As soon as I had my own house and a little yard, I began to enjoy firsthand the magic of putting seeds in the ground and watching them grow into something beautiful and delicious to eat. Gardening also became a quiet respite for me after work. Time went on and busy-ness with career, then raising children, intervened; and over the years, gardening became something I would engage in half-heartedly, with results to match.
Then 2020 came, offering me the unique opportunity of working from home, with time on my hands in the afternoon after meetings were over and tasks were done. In March of that year, I planned to use the extra time I imagined I would have that summer to build the best garden I had ever had. During lockdown time, I had discovered the plethora of gardening videos available on social media. My passion for growing things was reignited! By April, I had ordered a small truckload of compost and began setting up a new no-dig garden in the garden space I had abandoned a few years before. Hauling compost by
the wheelbarrow-load from the driveway to the garden and spreading it into my 13 garden beds strengthened me physically and increased my energy level, and the sunshine lifted my spirits. Equipped with new knowledge about soil-building, I set out to create a green paradise in the backyard, which I hoped would yield plenty of healthy veggies.
As the spring progressed, I realized that I preferred to be in the garden over almost anywhere else. Having been raised with a strong work ethic, gardening was also the closest thing to play I allowed myself, when my usual outlet, social dance, was no longer available and everything was so very serious. After all, creating garden beds and planting was productive, and provided a workout at the same time!
Spending time touching the soil, listening to the sounds of birds and bugs, and the wind in the trees, was paradise to my introverted self. I felt that I could disconnect temporarily from the challenge of learning to do my job online, from the dangers of being in crowded places, and from the newness of inventing ways for my family and I to stay connected with others safely during a pandemic. Being outdoors allowed my sons some space in the afternoon, during the time when we were all learning and working from home. My sons learned to look in the garden first if they were trying to find me. Even after dark, I could be found on the back porch, sowing seeds into trays illuminated by the porch light. Devoting this
much time to plants may have looked a little unusual, but it made me happy while everything else seemed so complicated. It provided an illusion of control, independence and self-sufficiency.
After a while, my sons became interested in what was growing in the garden. One of them came out and helped me construct a couple of trellises and a leaf bin. The other started working in the small blueberry field on the property, learning to prune, and to protect the fruit from catbirds by catching them with a fishing net, and releasing them outside the fenced-in field. We all enjoyed fresh vegetables for dinner, and the boys began to notice the difference in taste between home grown produce and that which we bought at the store. They enjoyed walking through the garden with friends, tasting edible flowers and fresh beans. My mother enjoyed checking on the progress of the developing tomatoes and
The yield from the vegetable garden was wondrous that year; I posted many photos of baskets brimming with green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini. Somewhere along the way, I began to connect with plants in a more intimate way. I was amazed by the vitality of a 6’ pink zinnia. I felt gratitude for the presence of the plants and the abundance they provided. It occurred to me that plants communicate their health and well-being via their yield, so I became intent on providing what the plants needed to flourish.
By midsummer, I noticed the diversity of the pollinators attracted by the marigolds, zinnias and flowering cilantro, and realized I wasn’t growing these vegetables alone; nothing would have happened without the bees, wasps and butterflies. The garden began to look like a community of living things, interdependent upon one another. And I was only a part of it.
Outside the garden, I began to connect with others who love gardening; a Facebook group, friends and family who shared gardening tips and humble brags. There again, I realized I was part of a larger whole, learning and teaching and celebrating. I watched as gardeners in my town formed a group aimed at creating a pollinator pathway through town. A friend showed me how she was attracting birds and bees to her garden. I visited neighbors, sharing plants, veggies, and conversation. At a time when the world was losing person after person, including a few loved ones, the way I had sometimes coped with the heaviness of it was to retreat into the garden, seemingly to escape.
funny, ever since I first read the piece by John Donne in which he declared that “no man is an island” in high school, my attention always focused on the “clod,” that small piece of soil attached to the shore. In high school, I identified with the clod; its quiet but apparently useful existence, not bothering with anything, just being a part of things, quietly doing its clod thing. And yet, says Donne, the clod is not insignificant, but “a part of the Main.” Soil supports the great interconnectedness of life, just as the “clod” connects with Europe; or how soil connects with seeds; and how pollinators and beneficial insects keep gardens fruitful; and how people connect with each other, as my children, friends, neighbors and
fellow gardeners did with me in the summer of 2020.
My occasional rejuvenating retreats into the quietude of the small green paradise behind my house provided a healing balance to what had previously seemed to be “the outside world,” but which I now realize is the shared experience in which we all partake. The 2020 garden yielded not only vegetables, herbs and flowers, but also health, strength, connection and gratitude. And a keener awareness that in order to survive and flourish, we
need to share, connect, and work together.
Diane is a therapist, dance and gardening enthusiast who lives in a vintage farmhouse with her two sons and two cats in southeastern CT.