Just One More Adventure: Real Magic 4
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Trout-Lily, or Erythronium americana with Jacob’s Ladder
Grounded in the Garden
For some years now I have been vaguely aware of “Earthing” or “Grounding” from fellow gardeners. After another conversation in which the subject of “Grounding” came up I did a search and found a book to read. I keep telling myself how much sense this one makes and so easy to do. So why not do it? (You are aware of the words procrastination and gardener having a definite correlation?)
Our brains, our cells and our bodies run on electrical energy. At its most basic, our bodies were made from the earth and need to be in contact with the earth to function properly. Earth is a grounding or negative force. We build up positive forces that create free radicals needing to be discharged before they can do damage such as inflammation. Simple bare body to soil creates a flow of positive to negative creating a neutral state. For a more detailed and complete, perhaps more clear, explaination you may want to read “Earthing The most important health discovery ever” by Clinton Ober.
Simply sitting still on your favorite bench in the garden with bare feet in the soil can reduce inflammation, chronic pain, while increasing energy levels and lowering stress. Improved blood pressure is also a benefit of the process.
Hepatica nobilis blue bloom
The last couple of decades there has been quite a bit of research into soil microbes and human health. Some of what has been established is a link between the bacterium mycobacterium vaccae and stimulation of serotonin production. Serotonin is the natural chemical that produces the feelings of relaxation and happiness. You can think of soil bacterium as a natural form of Prozac (without the side effects). A lack of serotonin has been linked to anxiety, depression, bipolar and obsessive compulsion disorders. The bacterium does not seem to have any side effects to a gardeners’ health, but rather stimulates the production of cytokine which, in turn, increases levels of serotonin. All a gardener needs is time to play in the garden; to actually come into direct contact with soil, to inhale or have contact with an open wound.
I personally found all this to be a major help both physically and mentally as I progressed through two cancers and five years of treatment and recovery with radiation and chemo.
Insulation from Reality
The ending of WW2 brought with it the beginning of answers written in chemicals. The buzz word became plastics, and I grew up with one new miracle after another most of my life. Everything from chemical sprays and fertilizers for my garden, to synthetic blends of cloth in my shirts and trousers (remember the leisure suit of the 70’s? Certainly nothing real about that one.), to the chair I sit on at breakfast. Almost every nook and cranny of our lives now have synthetic answers. And, therein lies a problem.
Talk About Out of Touch
Growing up my shirt and jeans would have been made of cotton. Now when I head up the hillside into the garden my shirt is SPF 50, long sleeved, quick drying and completely manmade. My hat has the same SPF and never saw anything resembling natural fibers. Cargo pants are summer weight and also synthetic. Gloves I use are nitrile coated with never a crumble of soil beneath my fingernails. Work boots are leather uppers, but the insoles are molded unpronounceables, while the soles are poured into a form to be attached in one piece. None of which is a sin, simply all act as insulators and keep us from contact with our garden soil and its benefits.
And, that’s A Good Thing
My oncologist would be very proud of me, seeing me dressed as she would have directed to protect myself from possible further cancer. My dermatologist would put away her can of frozen nitrogen in celebration. My family doctor would want another quick scan. Thing is, I am doing as instructed by the medical community who is looking out for my wellbeing. Perhaps withdrawing, insulating myself from, the real world that I live and garden in is not the complete answer.
I have the good intentions of the medical community wishing me well through one avenue, while my soul and my roots want to travel the back roads to the same destination. It would seem that relationships exist upon a building block of compromise, so somewhere in all these relationships is a healthier me while I garden. I understand there is a “new” field of medicine now building in momentum. Integrative medicine.
Just One More Adventure: Real Magic 3
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Primula vulgaris, Red Form
The older I become, the longer I garden, the more fascinated I find myself with our ability to rediscover what we believe: what we already know. But, to be honest, believing is not the same as knowing, and truth with a capital “T” has a way of changing over time. In today’s culture a scientific answer is confirmation of what we “have always known”. I suppose to be human is to want validation.
I have known since I was 7 or 8 years of age the benefits of walking in a forest. It was always my safe place and I drove my parent’s crazy running away from home to hide in the woods all day. The woods has always held a fascination for me and without my conscious knowledge when I began gardening it was a shade garden beneath trees on a Southern Indiana hillside. I mentioned before how philosophers and kings, theologians and diplomats have long walked the woods alongside hikers. My title while walking the woods is gardener and plantsman, and I know what I know.
Bloom of Asian species of ginger
My knowing has been validated by the Japanese and their science behind the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing, the name they give walking the woodland paths. A simple quote from a paragraph will say it best “The trip showed a significant boost in natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Li speculated that forest bathing allows participants to breathe in air that contains volatile essential oils from surrounding trees with active components such as limonene that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties”. There is a wealth of articles to read and much research to look into. You may want to begin at this website: http://www.shinrin-yoku.org
We, as individual gardeners, are not the only ones aware of the benefits of the soil. Most, if not all, rural communities are aware of the benefits of contact with the local soil. For decades the practice of using the soil to heal through horticulture was, and still is (to a lesser degree than in the past) used by institutions for mental and physical health.
Gardeners know when angry and frustrated, go dig a hole or break up a boulder. If in need of solace a couple of hours of quiet on a bench, or pull some weeds. When faced with a disability we manage to work our way to the garden somehow, then find our way back to the window facing the garden. Eventually, one day we would stop to pull a weed, forget our disability and find it is an hour later and the pile of weeds was formidable. Then comes the working in the soil and we know we are on the road to recovery.
There is an organization where gardeners and others can learn about the science and get guidance in horticultural therapy. http://www.ahta.org/ American Horticultural Therapy Association. They can explain it far better than I.
There are two more thoughts about the real magic to be physically found in our gardens that I would like to continue next week. I truly do feel we need to understand all the benefits available to us when we garden. Sometimes our wands may be bent just a bit, but the magic is still there for us. Wave on!
Just One More Adventure: Real Magic 2
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Why Do Flowers Make Us Smile?
My late winter/early spring trips to my garden have the intention of seeking some magic to cure winter gloom building up within my gardeners’ soul. At this stage of gardening here in the mid-west once can easily slip into garden withdrawal symptoms. A stroll up the hillside to my garden led to some of the best magic on the planet. I could see and feel, the magic of hardy Cyclamen coum, the winter cyclamen in full bloom, all the hellebore hybrids with nodding flowers. Adonis was waving his winter wand, soothing my lack of sunshine. Iris reticulata and winter aconite were showing off as Bert my oxygen bottle and I stopped to admire these miracles. All those early blooms were like one half of a magnet and the other half of that magnet was in my shirt pocket covering my heart. Sniffing about on brisk winter breezes for scent of the cyclamen, I could feel myself smiling deep within. Magic, indeed.
Scientist Prove Real Magic
Penny’s Pink Lenten Rose
Of course you and I know flowers make you feel good, and can bring a smile to your face. However, scientist take a different approach in “proving” what we already know we feel. I was reading a blog that quoted Rutgers University and their studies on the subject of how flowers make people happy. Some of what I found interesting was how flowers are fast acting on our emotions, causing us to feel happiness upon sight. Want immediate gratitude from a gift? Make it flowers, and age does not matter with the recipient. They went on to state how flowers help with depression, make us feel more satisfied with life in general, and to top it all off, assisted in forming “intimate connections”. Sounds a bit alike a gardener’s convention to me. There were several studies, but the one that stuck with me most was how 147 women received flowers and every one of them openly smiled.
Perhaps men were smiling on the inside and scientist were not able to measure reactions, so only females used in the study? I know that, for me personally, I do not walk through my garden grinning like an opossum who found a pile of persimmons. I can testify that I grin a lot on the inside, and the equivalent outward signs of a smile are there in my knowing I feel better after I walk along a path with flowers in bloom. So, my experience is close enough to joining the ladies in their 100% of smiles on display.
Rutgers went on to speculate that perhaps flowering plants are like pets in that our relationship has evolved over the millennia. They are pretty and we like them, so we cultivate, select, take care of, keep them near us in our gardens. If you are a “serious” gardener with a plant wish list then you probably think, on occasion, just who is cultivating whom in our relationship with flowers.
Don’t forget: Book Gene now as guest speaker at your next gardening event this coming fall or next spring. New Titles and Content are being added.
Bookings are limited, so book now so you will not be disappointed. I look forward to our meeting you in the “real world”.
Just One More Adventure: Real Magic
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
As every gardener can tell you places and times where magic still exists remain among us. Not hocus-pocus or woo-woo magic, not smoke and mirrors, but magic that can be experienced. Perhaps the magical becomes the mundane when we spend portions of our lives in our gardens. Enough time that we need on occasion to be reminded of the wands we carry concealed within our weeders.
This past week I could only work in my garden two afternoons for perhaps two hours each time. Those two afternoons with the sun shining and warm out-of-ordinary warm breezes pulled me out of the house and into the garden like a magnet pointed toward the metal in my garden tote. I placed an extra-long hose on Bert the Oxygen Bottle and up the hillside we went with a rake and a weeder.
It was not the best of days for Bert and I to be working together. I kept tripping over the hose, getting it tangled in the tines of the leaf rake, stepping on it, getting it hidden under the piles of refuse, getting it hung up on stones and stumps as I moved about. I suppose Bert needed extra attention those days. In any case, there was a time or two I felt like sitting down in the middle of a path and crying from frustration. But, I did get through that and accomplished some real tasks.
Good for me! Real work and coming down the hillside with Bert at my side I was breathing naturally, not overly tired. I found some of my stamina was returning. The magic of being in my garden was returning and I could not only feel the magic, but was mentally aware of the waving of a wand in my life.
Today we all know the value of exercise. We are reminded of it almost every day in some way. I was exercising as instructed, stretching my muscles just a bit more each day until they rebuild the strength I had lost. I felt so much better mentally and physically leaving my garden I knew I was on the road to recovery. So how is that magic and not just physical?
My “Worry Rock” located next to the cave entrance.
There is a spiritual element to the magic of gardening. In my garden there are three locations where I can sit, get quiet, and feel my connection to this unseen world. These locations provide an easy access to transcending the mundane. I am not alone in this, not a belief, but a knowing, for history tells of American natives and their connections to sacred places. There are spiritual communities turned into towns and cities near or on spots where this connection exists in nature. One of my locations is on a large flat stone at the entrance to a cave in the center of my garden. Sitting on that stone is to feel the transference of energy between myself and the force within the stone and it foundation. The poison of an unsettled soul, or a physical illness, of a mental anguish can be physically felt draining, being pulled from the body, into the stone and beyond.
Any gardener who has weeds to pull knows of active meditation. There is a quiet that comes with the repetitive motion of popping up a weed, throwing it on the pile, repeating over and over for a couple of hours or more. Crawling on hands and knees beneath a shrub or tall perennial is humbling as a Japanese tea house entrance. The quiet inside and outside garden and gardener, the motion that allows the mind to unfocus and let solutions bubble up to any problem carried into the garden. It is so easy to “get lost” in the garden. It can be difficult to sit still and formally meditate, but so easy to do an activity with repetitive motion. There is a stepping away from and allowing your mind and spirit to heal.
Ever consciously registered how many gardens you visit that have entrances? Some are more formal than others, but here is usually some type of gate, or an arch to pass under, and a barrier to entering the garden from any other direction. Gardeners are not the only ones to do this. Churches do this by dividing the interior into a section for the minister and then the rest of the congregation. Not as strict and formal as it once was, but the lines remain. Gates and doors, raised platforms, are entrances to another plane, another world, a place designated as special.
The main entrance to my garden has a defining border between lawn and hillside garden with a special entrance. On either side is a shelf with a container of stones on one side and empty container on the other shelf. Just before entering one is to pick up a stone, place all problems into the stone and then deposit in the other clay container. Many religions have some type of cleansing ritual before entering a house of worship. My garden entrance gives me a pause before entering, an opportunity to “cleanse” the spirit before entering this other world called a garden.
Even Presidents and foreign dignitaries do it. They travel to Camp David, but you can simply walk to your garden. Many of the great philosophers and theologians do their best thinking when taking a walk. Perhaps your garden is not big enough for a long walk, but you can still wander where you grow (as long as you can resist the temptation to stop and pull weeds, forgetting the walk). I cannot imagine a day without a walk in my garden. When something interferers with my ritual walk, I feel like I am missing something.
When I have been away on a trip for any length of time, I take my bags inside and then come back out to wander my garden; to walk the hillside and reconnect. Very much akin to being away from a dear friend. After being away you feel the need to reconnect to that special bond. When troubled I can walk the garden and feel the solutions, the answers, bubble up to my conscious mind. And, if for some reason the bubbles are not rising to the surface for you, there is always the healthy exercise to help your heart.
A Bit Too Woo-Woo for You?
If this has been a bit too much on the woo-woo side for you, come back next week for the physical aspect of real magic.
Just One More Adventure: A Matter of Timing
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Helleborus niger, Christmas Rose.
There are times in gardening, and life, when things simply come together in a flow, a balance, or harmony if you will. One of those times when you can see the convergence you are in. This past week of a gift of late spring arriving in 3rd week of February was a beginning of a balance not seen until the second half arrived.
After being cooped up in the house, or running to Rehab or YMCA daily, I longed for my garden and missed our being together. As though my wish, my need, was heard by at least a minor god, the February gloom parted and we had an early spring. Time for me to find a physical presence in my garden. I took advantage of every hour I could be out there in shirt sleeves.
There was feelings of satisfaction with work accomplished at the end of each session. I found I could work about 2 hours, come back in to lunch and a nap, then about 2 more hours in the afternoon until tea time. May not sound like much, but to me it was super hero time without the cape. I was moving mountains (well, molehills, actually) of weeds and debris from garden to paths. Most of all I was moving me from disability to ability and a part of my old life. Even my connection to my oxygen bottle was not so big a distraction from where I needed to be, and was.
On Friday my heart specialist had me scheduled to show up at the hospital for a TEE (transesophageal echocardiography – ultrasound of my heart from inside the esophagus) and then across the hall to the operating room for heart catheterization. Checked in at 11:30 and got back out the door at 10:30 with an answer to some of my questions. Seems I have a leaky valve that can be fixed or replaced, if my lung doctor says my lungs will hold up. Lots of new appointments in my future. For now I am on restriction to not lifting over 5 pounds, no pushing or pulling, don’t sit too long and don’t walk too far. Not sure where that puts me, except inside the house.
When I went into the hospital it was in the 70’s. When I checked out temps had fallen to uncomfortable and by following morning when the pain meds wore off and I knew why the restrictions on my activities, there were snow flurries and temps of 34 degrees.
The flow comes together
Jelena Witch-hazel in full bloom. will last into last of March.
See how it all converged? How the flow of my being restricted from my garden matched up perfectly with the return of winter. I could not be in my garden, but that would be ok, for no one would want to be out there in the return of winter. Looks as though my 5 days of restrictions end as another spell of spring weather returns.
Life is good when you know you are in the flow.
Just One More Adventure: Bert The Boss
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Adonis amurensis Fukujuka
Don’t know if life could actually get any better for a gardener than this past week. I know gardeners talk weather, but his month truly is becoming a topsy-turvy. Can you believe afternoon temps of 70 degrees in February? My friend in Arizona is experiencing only 50’s. This past week I took part in the shirt-sleeve weather. I was in my garden Friday, Saturday and Sunday both morning and afternoon. I proclaim all is right with the world.
Hellebore niger, Christmas Rose, with Snowdrops
I took advantage of the time and temps to begin spring cleanup. Some debris removal, but mostly on my kneeling bench with a dovetail weeder practicing active meditation usually referred to as weeding. You will have to admit there is something soothing about digging the unwanted and unneeded from the garden. Evidence of my meditation is in piles at the end of paths to be removed later.
Light has been hazy bright most days with light to no wind and perfect for photographs. And there has been so many opportunities for great photos. Adonis in 3 locations are perfect this late winter. Snowdrops could not be better and I am seeing some forms open for the first time in my garden. Hellebores both transplanted and random seedlings that have settled in continue to draw me all through the garden paths. Winter aconite has joined up with Cyclamen coum and Iris reticulata for a first display together.
I see so many noses just beneath the leaf litter. Virginia Bluebells are up an inch or so, European wood anemones have yellow-green curved new growth. Spring Beauties have dark bronze leaves on display. So much excitement to bring new life to both gardener and the garden.
Over and Above
It was also time to get some discipline in my life. I have been impatient and leaving my oxygen bottle at the door for it was too much of an interference and distraction. I realized I am the only one being hurt by my refusal to change. So. Bert the Oxygen Bottle and I went to the garden together. First day I kept him on the 7 foot hose I use when traveling, but that did not work well. Kept tripping on or standing on the hose, pulling the bottle and cart over. Next day I used a 25 foot hose and things went much smoother. Still not a perfect arrangement, but learning to work with Bert.
Bert The Boss
It did not take long for me to reach the conclusion that Bert is the Boss. The Bottle dictates pace and distance, remembering at all times its requirements more than my wants. There has been a time or two when I had to work with a boss that I could not stand to be around. But, if I wanted a pay check I put my feelings aside and followed instructions, did my assignments. Looks as though I may not like Bert the Oxygen Bottle very much, resent his presence in my garden with me, but there is a payoff that I need. While Bert does not make for much of a companion, it is there and probably will be the duration in this larger garden called life.
Just One More Adventure: Moth to a Flame
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
First hellebore to bloom each winter.
Like a Moth to a Flame
Some may call it an addiction, an obsession, my need for my garden as perhaps a codependent relationship. Being the romantic that I am, I prefer to picture a moth fluttering about a flame. I know I could get burned, perhaps singed at best, but still I do the dance. Here I go doing it one more time. Weather permitting I leave my oxygen bottle at the door and head up into the garden. Not following the doctor’s orders to always be connected to oxygen is the part that could, at some point, singe my wings. But, for now, that part is just head knowledge. The romantic notions only fade when and if my fluttering flight brings consequences.
Just too Good
But, for today I fly. April weather arrived here in February, so how can any gardener not get out into their garden? To me, the thought is unimaginable. The weather is just too good to be trapped inside anywhere for any reason. The trip up into the garden is, after all, a dose of what cures winter’s cabin fever. There is sunshine, fresh air, exercise, a cleansing of a dehydrated soul. Soil to get under fingernails upping serotonin levels of happiness. The time in my garden should be a part of a prescription.
Just Do Something
My intention was to simply take a walk through the garden. I walked through the entrance into my other world and immediately succumbed to weeding. The urge was a siren call so strong it took me to my knees. My fingers itched to touch the chickweed encroaching upon primula working to form buds. The soil was so perfect for weeding that it had to be a “Sign”. One small patch of green trouble led to the next drift forming higher up the path. I finally came to from my trance mid-garden, standing in the middle of a path with seedlings of chrome-yellow winter aconite. Think it was the change of color from weedy green to bright yellow that awakened me.
Now that I awoke from my trance, I realized if I did not stop weeding I would never get through my garden. There was things I wanted to do besides weed. The weeds would more than likely still be there next time I responded to the siren call.
Every foot of the paths needed me to walk their length. I felt the desire to oversee all of the garden, to reestablish my relationship, to become one with the soul of the garden and let it help to heal me. The outside world went away leaving only my garden and I in a world where only we existed.
We shared the sound of the wind chimes, the call of the winter wren, and sigh of the wind through the pines. The first redwing blackbird of the new season advertised its return. Pausing to sit on the big rock at the cave entrance, the quiet peaceful noises turned to silence. I could hear silence.
I believe the time in my garden was oxygen for my soul.
Just One More Adventure: A Gardeners Gotta Do
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
“Black” Lenten Rose (Hellebore x garden hybrid) opening.
Standing inside with my nose pressed to the glass, yearning for winter to end, I got my wish. The clouds and gloom of February have parted to reveal record breaking warm temperatures. The most yo-yo of all late winters I can remember. It will be almost seventy percent for afternoon temps, but day after tomorrow it will be freezing with snow showers. With recent warm rains, the soil is saturated and the late winter perennials and bulbs can no longer hold back. Well, no longer can a gardener. I have to get out there in my garden.
What a Gardeners Gotta Do
I see signs of leaf litter forming little domes from being pushed upward by early emerging plants. In some places they have broken through and are showing the color of buds and/or blooms. In one location the Snowdrops (Galanthus) will be small tuffs of green with leaf mulch residing like a roof at the tips of the leaves. In other locations the snowdrops are in full bloom. The garden hybrid hellebores mostly have large plump buds with colors of almost black to dusty rose and yellow, framed by fresh new foliage. Adonis have punched through with heads of chrome yellow, ferny foliage following. Now I ask you. How can a gardener not go admire the beauties braving the late winter weather?
Feeling like I had been confined long enough I make a break for it. I disconnected from the Noisy- Monster-in-the-Corner (oxygenator), picked up my camera with tripod, notebook and kneeling pad and headed for the garden. Bert the Oxygen bottle did not get to make the trip with me either. I went unfettered from hoses and constraints. I was free!
I headed up the hill to greet my awakening children, ready to take casual portraits of their sleepy faces. We spent an hour together with me walking up and down, across the hillside, kneeling to set up my camera and get the best shot, then up and moving on to the next location. It was an annual greeting ritual I had performed for many years and we all knew how to play our parts. There is a great comfort in rituals.
Consequences of Gardeners Doing
After having greeted all my children to begin a new year, I headed back down the hill. On the way to the house I stopped at my car and picked up a little gizmo that you can stick on the end of a finger and get a reading of oxygen levels in the blood and heartbeats per minute. Whoops! Turns out there was consequences for my behavior. My heart rate was up to where it would be if I were jogging up the hill rather than casually walking. Oxygen levels had dropped fourteen points. My legs and hips were exhausted and I was becoming lightheaded. Came back inside, hooked up to the Noisy-Monster-in-the-corner-of-the-room, and watched my oxygen levels get back to normal, my heart rate to settle down. Decided it was a most excellent time to take a nap.
There may have been consequences for my actions, but I gladly paid the price for my freedom to be with my children.
Sometimes a gardener does what a gardens gotta to do.
Just One More Adventure: Lightening Strikes
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
Yellow hellebore bud opening. First of the winter blooms
Lightening From a Clear–Blue Sky
I keep returning to the afternoon I checked out from the hospital. I had been disconnected from the IV, dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for dismissal when lightning struck. Clear blue sky outside, totally unexpected. I was informed that before I could go home I required oxygen to leave. Oxygen would also be delivered to my home while I was on the way. I was receiving oxygen while in bed, but did not give it much thought, and no one made an issue of it. I was not connected to oxygen sitting on the edge of the bed. My wife looked at me and I looked at her. So. What the hay was going on?
Ask and You Will Receive
I did inquire with the rep that showed up for the company that would be supplying my needs. I was informed that Medicare would not pay for my hospital stay if I did not sign the forms for oxygen and connect before leaving. That was not what I asked. I wanted to know the why and she told me how I would. I was shown the end that went into my nose, the bottle on wheels it was connected to, and shown the setting for how much oxygen I would be breathing; twenty-fours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.
I do need to say that I am thankful for all the medical machinery available to help me function another day. To live longer. That is something I know with my head, but then there is also what goes on behind my bellybutton.
I have told part of the story on how I met Bert the Oxygen Bottle before and will return again to continue the tale. The Bert was to be my traveling companion. My day-to-day companion, in-house-never-to-leave would be an off-white machine resembling a dehumidifier, only more noisy.
The new monster that ruled my movements in my own home took up residence in the dining room which was most central to our home. With a hose connected to the machine and the other end looped around my ears and nose it became the center of my everyday life. No movement could be made without dragging the hose from one room to the next, or picking it up as I reversed. If I wanted to be outside on the porch I had to switch to Bert, or move the Monster. I will not bore you with tales of continually stepping on the hose, my cat believing it was a snake to be pounced and bitten, catching the hose beneath a chair or table leg doing my best to give up an ear.
To have some fun of your own tie a 40 foot string to a chair leg and the other end to your finger. Now navigate your own home and all that you would normally do in a day.
I tell you of my day to day oxygen therapy not looking for sympathy, but to share the experience and what can be the results not just for me, but for other gardeners as well. First comes the frustration. Then creeps in the sense of isolation, often followed by depression. It is as if one shoe is nailed to the floor of the world and I am forced to move in tight little circles while all is flowing around and past me. I are no longer a part of anyone’s world but my own. Isolated is a cold, hard shelled word. There are times with I stand at the window, nose pressed to the glass, and watch my wife leave for work, see the gloomy skies over my garden, and feel a loss that leads to depression. I know that I can feel isolated, but I also know I am never truly alone, for I have all my gardening friends I can tell my story to, email and call.
It is February now and the first of the winter blooming flowers are making an appearance. Even with Bert and the Monster as companions, I can see spring coming.
Just One More Adventure: Crying Over Spilled Milk
Gardeners Grabbed by Life-Altering Events
This story is of a gardener, a friend and my favorite word: Tenacity. I can not think of one without thinking of all three.
‘Crying Over Spilt Milk’
Where Hilary is Most Happy
I have always equated my life’s course to a river. There have been rapids, sandbars and backwaters. To my way of thinking ‘it’s no use crying over spilt milk’ is good sound advice to myself. If we’re alive we have demonstrably got through the hard times. The alternative? Not by choice…
I feel as if I’m in a backwater now, with the sound of the rapids still ringing in my ears. Here is the short version of how I got here.
There have been many challenges, several being health based. One such occurred at a client’s. I fell on a rain-slick grass hillside, which had been out to get me for years and finally succeeded by breaking my wrist: every damn bone in it. For those of you who don’t know me: walking and gardening on crutches when your arm is in a cast? Well it’s not for the faint-hearted. Hello-o-o, fellow gardeners!!
Next came a diagnosis of bowel cancer and, due to not being able to afford health insurance in the U.S., having the surgery in France where my husband was living (lucky me to have that option!) All went well, as it turned out, and I returned to Indiana with renewed energy. That kind of reprieve is energizing. So over the next few years I managed to raise two teenagers, a dog, cats, chickens, duck, turkey, rabbits (thanks to Irvin), and run my garden design business and develop my gardens on the two acres we lived on.
My own garden is my ‘spilt milk’ issue. I have cried over it, mourned the inability to develop and maintain it to the level I felt it deserved but when you have no money, you don’t buy plants or employ labour – not for yourself, anyway. Still, there is ‘no use crying…etc. etc.’ so instead you figure other ways of doing things and I did. I got seeds and starts from the ever generous species known as other gardeners; and sometimes even from clients. Over a twenty-three year period that turned out to be a lot of plants! Which is how the garden ended up being featured in a book by the Xerces Society, published by Timber Press: http://www.xerces.org/books-butterfly-gardening/
Gardening is what has got me into trouble many times…and out of it more often.
Having gardened in the UK, Austria and France, gardening in central Indiana and facing the challenge of growing things – anything – in a climate which can swing from 60°F to 0°F in less than 12 hours – is, well, if not exhilarating then I don’t know what! That particular wild-temperature-swing day my daughter and I spent some futile minutes trying to wrap protective cloth around some spring-blooming plants…to no avail, due to howling 60 mile-an-hour winds which typically precede such weather fronts. We ended up wrapped in the cloth ourselves. 😛 We have had some laughs…
Now for the difficult part: my son has already moved to Bloomington, my daughter is heading for Arizona. I was happy about that for both of them, it’s what children do. But it took me two years before I could go upstairs to their bedrooms.
For the next 10 years I spent every winter, for longer and longer periods, in Tucson; happy not to have to negotiate Indiana winters any more than necessary. Crutches and wet/snowy/icy surfaces don’t mix: add in creeping arthritis and general aging…
Three years into that time I was watching my garden grow more unkempt as I was still optimistically adding more beds, and the realization hit that I couldn’t keep on. Despite help from so many people – Rich Peine who would come to chainsaw fallen branches and trees into firewood, Dee Ann Peine who helped clean out beds, clean up pots, weed out garlic mustard (or just spirit me away to the farm or the barrens), Donovan Miller who twice a year removed Amur honeysuckle and rampant mulberry saplings and treated the roots, Sarah Gray who had more than enough to deal with in her own world-class garden; and many others, too numerous to list, over several more years – I couldn’t keep up.
Also, after twenty odd years (and the crash in 2008) my business wasn’t paying so I was facing early retirement, which at least offered a low but steady income, something I had not had in over twenty years.
It is hard to realise that your life’s work is done, at least in that particular form, but…it’s no use crying over spilt milk!
So here I am, so-called ‘retired’ in my backwater in southern Arizona, gardening in pots outside my front door; still growing things from seeds and starts from generous gardeners and the desert, facing new challenges: namely heat and aridity.
I have cried some more, I am still sad about my gardens in Indiana; but otherwise I refuse outright to cry over – life. I’m still alive, dammit!
Attention gardeners: If you have a story to tell of your personal life-altering events and your gardens please share.