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“Life is short and absurd and run through with pain and sorrow. But even in the face of real suffering, gardening can make our days shine with joy.” —Monty Don
Today is Earth Day, and so I chose today’s topic as a way to celebrate the good fortunate we have to live on our amazing Mother Earth. Gardening has been on nearly each of my daily to-do lists for one task or another over the past month, so I thought why not talk about gardening and why you might just want to take up this hobby for beneficial reasons you may not have known could be possible.
For as long as I can remember, my mom has had her hands in the dirt and was/is growing something, weeding something, cooking something harvested from the garden, canning something that was/is grown in her own garden or worried about something being eaten by the deer or hurt by the frost or wind or . . . in other words, my mother’s love of gardening her plants was/is a clear priority in her life and our lives as we enjoy(ed) the benefits of a beautiful and delicious home and meals. But it is a true love my mother has for this pastime of gardening.
I have titled today’s post “Part Une” because there will be more in the coming months and years on the reasons for taking up gardening as I am a novice when it comes to gardening and only beginning to appreciate the gifts of playing in the dirt; however, I have been trying and sometimes succeeding at this wonderful hobby since I attempted to grow my first plants on the porch of my first apartment in college more than twenty years ago (I don’t remember it going well, but darn it, I was going to try to add some color to my bland, small space since I had chosen to stay for the summer in the college town).
Today I would like to introduce you to the well-being benefits of gardening to hopefully encourage you to consider gardening no matter whether you live in an apartment or have a grand space of open ground. Because the truth is, during our current uncertain times between the companionship of my two dogs and the gift of the spring season to go to work in my yard, my mind has never been more calm in such an odd and uncomfortable time.
I have spent relaxing Saturday afternoons perusing through nursery websites and studying cottage gardens to determine which shrubs and flowers I would like in my own yard, as well as which ones would actually grow in my yard. I have reflected on the tours I have taken to gardens in Victoria, Canada; Monet’s Giverny; and Les Jardins de Villandry in the Loire Valley and garden tours of personal residences that my mom encouraged me to join her on (and I am thankful she did) to recall what captured my eye, what kept my attention, what I might want to welcome into my own home and garden. It has been quite the enjoyable excursion of wandering and learning, as I have been watching many old and recent episodes of Gardeners’ World, hosted by Monty Don, taking mental notes of what and how I should be doing certain tasks as spring unfolds. Needless to say, the learning will be a forever journey, and that excites me as well.
Today, I would like to share with you the benefits taking up gardening will bring into your life and infuse your entire life and each arena with an elevated quality of well-being, pleasure and joy.
1. Learn how to be a student of life for your entire life
“The right answers are few and far between and are nearly always very much less interesting and informative than the right questions.” —Monty Don
Curiosity fuels us and enables a youth-filled energy to resonate throughout our entire lives, and gardening has endless lessons to teach. The awesome part about these life lessons is that they apply not only to the plants we wish to grow and care for, but also how to live well. Below in the remaining nine benefits, discover how gardening can positively influence your entire way of living.
2. Enjoy a hobby for a lifetime and leave a legacy
“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.” — Minnie Aumonier
No matter what the world is doing or going through – thriving or struggling or angry or celebrating – our garden can be our refuge. Whether you are young, old, and regardless of your fitness, gardening is available for us all in large and small approaches. What or how we garden throughout our lives will change and evolve as we go along our journey, but it is a pastime we can bring with us wherever we are.
3. Discover how to be more observant and discover the beauty in the everyday
“Learn to be an observer in all seasons. Every single day, your garden has something new and wonderful to show you.” —Anonymous
From witnessing the tippy top of a seedling sprouting from the soil after seven days of waiting, to seeing the rhubarb emerge from the soil after a long, cold winter (see this season’s rhubarb at Le Papillon emerge from the cold soil below); to seeing the first blossoms on the fruit trees, seeing the evolution of the plants in our yard and garden is an ever-moving show of beauty, and especially to us, the gardener’s who have done the planting, the gardening, the waiting, seeing it move through the seasons, hones our ability to see subtle changes and appreciate each one.
4. Benefit from the natural medicine to soothe your being
“The first purpose of a garden is to be a place of quiet beauty such as will give delight to the eye and repose and refreshment to the mind.” ~Gertrude Jekyll, A Gardener’s Testament
Gardening requires that we be present: as we find the weeds to eradicate, figure out where to prune on the rose bush in the early spring, how much to water and what to water when, seek out the best spot for that new plant you could not wait to welcome into your garden. We must be present. It doesn’t mean our thoughts don’t wander, but gardening offers even while we wait for flowers to bloom and seasons to arrive, an opportunity to witness immediate progress. Whether it is when we weed, mulch, rake, trim or harvest, so much of gardening is quite quick in its fulfillment. And the quickest benefit when it comes to fulfillment is a tranquil mind and being (and often, an exhausted body ready for a hot shower or bath and a deep night’s sleep).
“I always see gardening as escape, as peace really. If you are angry or troubled, nothing provides the same solace as nurturing the soil.” —Monty Don
5. Learn patience and the art of letting go
“The biggest obstacle to good gardening is the desire to know the answers and not the questions.” —Monty Don
In multiple posts here on TSLL, we have talked about letting go, so I find it quite charming that such a lovely pastime (gardening) can beautifully teach us a most helpful skill to learn and apply throughout our entire lives.
6. Deepen your appreciation for weather patterns and the cycle of the seasons
“Weather means more when you have a garden. There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.” —Marcelene Cox
Even though we may live in the same geographic location for years, some spring seasons will be bursting with growth and blooms and others will be slow to start, and the same amongst so many other outcomes is true for the other three seasons as well. This offers us the opportunity to appreciate the wealth of robust seasons, as well as to savor the variety of weather patterns and what they can offer our gardens.
I have much to learn about the seasons and when to plant what, when to prune what, etc., but the good news is the seasons will continue to cycle and offer me more opportunities to learn, apply and understand.
“The seasons are what a symphony ought to be: four perfect movements in harmony with each other.” —Arthur Rubinstein
7. A medium to tell your story
“Gardens are a form of autobiography.” ~Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993
Maybe you planted a particular tree in your yard to commemorate someone special who has passed on, or maybe you planted a particular perennial because you were first introduced to it on a travel excursion you never want to forget. There are so many ways our gardens can tell our stories without uttering a word. From the colors we choose, the type of garden we plant, the type of plants we choose to care for, our creativity, our desire to tell our own story can be told with Mother Nature’s helping hand.
While not everything we plant will live as long as we had hoped or perhaps isn’t meant to live beyond a certain length of time, that doesn’t mean we have failed as a gardener. After all, just as some people were meant to enter into our lives for a season to help us understand something or teach us something, so too can a plant as it can provide comfort and beautiful reminders of something or someone we never want to forget, and even after it has lived its life, the memory and lesson can live on in our minds.
8. Strengthen trust
“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” — Gertrude Jekyll
Very few of us have not been hurt or disappointed by someone or something we have put our trust in, and so it is learning to know when and how to trust that we choose to strengthen or rebuild a worthwhile skill that will serve us well moving forward in relationship of all types and sorts. Depending upon where our garden is in the world, we will only be able to grow certain varietals. Depending upon high and low temperatures, moisture regularity or lack thereof, certain plants will either thrive or die no matter how badly we want them to grow in our garden. So too are the people we choose to welcome into our lives and us into theirs. Becoming wise about what is in our control, what is not, being able to be observant about the world around us, learning how to not force, but also let go, knowing what is poisonous and what is not is helpful to cultivate a life we love living and sharing.
Trust also is strengthened as we watch our garden grow through the seasons and the maturation process. When we take the time to learn about the plants we have thoughtfully brought into our gardens, when we understand their germination period, their blooming cycles, how to best care for them so that they are happiest and burst forth with their natural beauty, we discover so much about not only ourselves and trusting our journey, but how to exist and bond with others to establish and grow healthy relationships.
9. Learn to let go of the busy mentality and savor everydays as you slow down
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” — May Sarton
The pace of Mother Nature when it comes to the growth of the seeds we have the sown, the plants we have purchased, the spring bulbs we have planted in the fall, teaches us that waiting for what we wish for enables what we value to come forth when it is fully ready. Now, literally, being fully ready is for the livelihood of the plant, but figuratively speaking, it is a reminder that solely because we want something does not mean we are ready to fully appreciate it should it arrive on our time schedule. Letting go of the hurried life schedule actually will reduce our stress and enable us to be more present appreciating all that is right before us.
10. Learn how to not take everything so seriously and have fun
“Trees and plants always look like the people they live with, somehow.” — bestselling author Zora Neale Hurston
My teaching mentor has a tree in her front yard that has been named. In my mother’s garden, I helped her come up with the name for the figurine she has a of a Blue Heron. Sometimes the birds who wake us up in the morning (which I love and will lay in bed and just listen for minutes on end) receive names. When we invest money into our garden from the plants to the tools to the soil, etc., it can be easy to slip into taking our garden so seriously that we miss the fun. Of course, it is extremely frustrating when one of my dogs has targeted a newly planted Columbine for their urine target (I love you Oscar, but buddy, that plant is no more – argh!), but then I have to chuckle and remind myself of how fortunate I am to have a dog who has been with me for 15 years, to have a yard, to have the ability to purchase a beautiful plant that did for its short life bring a smile. Especially when we have had difficulty with success of growing or caring for anything, when something does grow well, it is cause and good reason to dance giddily. Much better to do that than get frustrated when it doesn’t. In other words, we need to lighten up, and for those of us who choose to garden, what a wonderful teacher to have teaching us such a beautiful lesson – literally and figuratively.
How to Start
1.Keep it Simple
“As overwhelming as your garden might seem, it boils down to three questions: What do you have to work with, what are you hoping to accomplish, and how do you make it happen?” —Billy Goodnick
Start with where you will grow your garden. What is the growing environment – sunny, shady, high and low temps, type of soil, south, north, east or west facing, etc.? What are your hopes and goals for your garden? How do you want to enjoy it? Then begin to seek out the skills and knowledge for making what you want to happen, as it is able in the area and climate you live in, to come to pass.
2. Start with plants rather than seeds (unless you want to try herbs)
While you can absolutely start by sowing your own seeds (it is fairly simple and the most inexpensive route to beginning your garden), it is often intimidating to the first-time gardener. Get your feet wet with a few plants that you want to put in pots or in the perfect spot in your garden that meet the conditions of the plant, and water them sufficiently as you enjoy their beauty and growth over the warm summer months.
However, if you want to start sowing seeds for the first time, start with herbs. In Monty’s April 2020 – What to Do – blog post, he shares and recommends sowing herbs from seeds as it is “ridiculously easy”.
3. Start with herbs
Speaking of herbs – Start growing your own herb garden. Most herbs are easy to care for as all they need is sun, soil and water and they will grow happily. Last year I shared a detailed post on how to grow your own Herb Garden. Click here to check it out. For as long as I have had a yard – having purchased my first house with a yard in 2007, I have had an herb garden. It is a must-have for cooking, but they also look beautiful and are extremely easy to care for.
4. Keep a journal and make observations
I can remember as a young girl seeing my mother with her clipboard and oodles of paper with lists and gatherings of ideas. In the winter she would be planning out her seed order and tasks to be done inside until the weather was warm enough to plant outdoors, and even throughout the entire year, keeping track of all that she was doing was on her clipboard. At the time and even up until recently, I didn’t fully appreciate why she was doing this, even though I have no doubt I became an avid list-maker due to observing her and my father as they tending to their daily routines and responsibilities.
With that said, keep a journal of not only what you grow and how well it goes, but also of what catches your eye when you are taking a walk, when you are traveling and what you might see in magazines, Pinterest or on gardening shows. Upon purchasing my house this past fall, the first house-warming gift I gave myself was a journal for the three components of my life at home that I wanted to record for information but also for the history of the house. As you can see below, one of the journals is specifically for chronically my yard and garden. (To learn more about the journals seen below, click here and listen to the Petit Plaisir of Episode #261 of the podcast.)
While you can order many plants and supplies online, planning ahead and knowing what you want to try to grow in your garden requires months in advance purchases before you will see the “fruits” of your labor. Now, this is not the case for everything, but for example, if you want certain tulips or daffodils or the hellebores to pop up during winter, you will need to plant at least in the fall prior to the season you wish to enjoy them. All of this learning takes time, as I am making my way through right now, but that makes it extremely fun as well.
5. Look to those who are teachers of gardening, love what they do and do not seek perfection
What I appreciate about Monty Don is that is isn’t seeking perfection in his garden. The gardening he has introduced to his many fans around the world is gardening that nurturers the gardener first and the onlooker or passerby secondarily. In other words, it is the journey and the curiosity and the love of gardening and Mother Nature that should be your fuel rather than keeping up with the Jones’ and their highly manicured yard next door. In fact, Monty Don’s thoughts on a perfectly maintained and mowed lawn are quite appreciated as he comments, “Grow grass. Mow it and call it a lawn. But do not try and make it ‘perfect’. Life really is too short. Smooth and green and smelling of new-mown grass when cut is good enough for me.”
Choosing to garden is something that will be entertained at different points in life for different people. What we are doing in our lives currently, our time, our resources, where we live, access to properly caring for what we would wish to grow, as well as the pace of life we are living. I have found that when I step into the yard or garden I slow life’s pace down, and in those moments that I am planting, planning and perusing, I can reflect more honestly on how healthy my pace of life actually is. Changing the pace of our lives if we wish to do so, can take time, but with intention, it can absolutely happen. And should we have found the pace of life that works best for us, being able to enjoy the many moments we step into the garden is all the sweeter. I would like to think we owe our gardens gratitude for teaching us a worthwhile lesson that filters into all aspects of our lives.
“Gardens heal. When you are sad, a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated, a garden consoles. When you are lonely, it offers companionship that is true and lasting. When you are lonely, it offers companionship that is true and lasting. When you are weary, your garden will soothe and refresh you.” —Monty Don, from his book Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom
Whether it is spring where you call home or fall for my Southern Hemisphere readers, may you too discover the nurturing gifts of gardening, and I look forward to sharing more about my journey as someone who is only just beginning to fall in love with this pastime I hope to enjoy for the rest of my life. Check out all of my posts thus far focused on Gardening in TSLL Archives.
“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin
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~All images have been captured in TSLL’s own garden (follow along on IG for more pictures of progress throughout the seasons – @thesimplyluxuriouslife)