I am still pretty new to gardening. But even with my short (five or so years) gardening tenure, I am able to realize how a small urban veggie patch can become a healing garden, capable of transforming many aspects of my daily life. In this post, I want to talk about what gardening means to me and what kind of lessons I draw every time I step my foot into the pathway between my raised beds and place my hands into that dirt.
I started growing tomatoes and some herbs on my backyard patio a few years ago. The first few growing seasons were dismal. I went at it without any prior knowledge or preparation. Just got tomato transplants and herb seedlings from the nursery, planted them in bigger pots, watered them, and hoped for the best. I had no clue about fertilizing, water needs, companion planting, or crop rotation. No wonder, my harvests were minuscule, but even so, it was so much fun to see my toddler pick up sweet cherry tomatoes straight off the vine and them after a quick rinse with clean water.
Thank goodness for the internet, the podcasts, and all the available advice from experts and master gardeners that are so widely available now. In the past few years, I attended local nursery workshops and native plant sanctuaries, listened to hours of podcasts, and finally made a real investment into proper raised beds, garden tools, good soil, and other things needed for success in the garden. Within just a couple of years, my three raised beds became the therapeutic garden I always wanted.
Still, it is hard work every year, and it can be frustrating at times. My family sometimes asks me, “Why do you bother?” “It is supposed to be therapeutic, and it seems to be making you more stressed.” True, there are times, when I say to myself, I cannot win against nature. Last summer season, my garden beds became infested with Japanese beetle grubs, and most of my tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, beans, and cucumbers were lost to their hefty appetite. Not to mention all the roses which these Japanese beetles seem to love.
Being a gardener can at times mean entering into a love-hate relationship with your garden. After the grub infestation, I almost gave up, but my strong belief in the benefits of garden therapy made me try another year. The grubs were defeated with organic methods, and this year’s season appears very promising. So, why do I keep getting back to this garden of mine?
Key Lessons From My Healing Garden
Humility and Acceptance
Bringing up a plant from seed to fruit and facing many obstacles on the way (weather, pests, potential diseases) teaches humility. I lost some plants to excessive heat, and I lost others to diseases or insects’ appetite. This is the territory that comes with organic gardening. It’s the price I am willing to pay for not spraying with any chemicals and making sure the organic pest control won’t affect the fragile ecosystems around my veggie patch. No matter how annoyed I might get when birds or slugs dine on my cherished tomatoes or lettuces, I am humble enough to accept it as part of the game of organic gardening.
Acceptance in the garden or elsewhere doesn’t mean giving up, of course. We bring our best efforts to what we can control, and we let go of the rest. With gardening that means “preparing the best environment you can possibly make for your plants,” and allowing nature to take it from there. Your garden (like your life) is in bigger hands than yours.Psychology Today
From the moment when the first seeds sprout to the time I discard the unusable parts of the plant into my composter, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Mother Nature for sharing her bounty with my family. Just like with a birth of a child and seeing that child mature into adulthood, there is something magical about the cycle of plant life from a seed to the plate and beyond.
Now, gratitude is of course a key to staying healthy and happy. I wrote here about how practicing gratitude journaling has helped me go through cancer. Gardening offers a ton of gratitude practice, only this time it is the shovel, the hoe, and the rake that are the tools of the trade instead of a pen or a computer keyboard.
Gardening is not for people who lack patience. I used to be one of those, and still am in some respects. But, ever since I started gardening, I learned to stop rushing, taking everything in strides, and waiting for the plant to show me when it is ready to be picked.
The truth is, some things simply cannot be rushed and if you try, the results are not pleasant. Pick a tomato too early, and it might taste ok after a few days in the house, but it will not have that same sweetness as when ripened on the vine.
From Patience, there is only one more step to Mindfulness. Being in the garden is, for the most part, very present-oriented. You live in the here and the now, and you there for the plants and they are there for you.
Learning from Mistakes
I made tons of mistakes during my gardening journey, and I am still making many for sure. But, the great thing about having a garden is that once you realize the mistake, especially if it cost you a plant or an entire crop, you are most likely not going to repeat it again.
There will be new errors, and you will also be learning from them. Even the master gardeners that I follow on social media and listen to on podcasts, still make mistakes and know how to learn from them. Gardening is an ongoing process of learning and every new season is just that, a new season and a new chance to start fresh.
Finally, gardening taught me so much about the ecosystem that surrounds me, about the microclimate around my garden, and about how it all fits into the bigger picture. Drought, use of glyphosates even far away from where I am, overuse of plastics, and their effect on the environment can all be seen in the garden.
The infestation by some insects or the lack of pollinators are all part of the bigger picture, and my veggie patch is the mirror for it. Having a garden taught me so much greater appreciation for our planet and in effect, my family has developed deeper eco-consciousness.
We reuse and recycle, we avoid buying too much much food and wasting it, and whatever food waste there is, we compost. Since tending to the garden, we also try to purchase mainly from sustainable and eco-friendly companies.
My urban veggie patch – two raises beds and some twenty grow bags – is certainly small but mighty. With all the lessons this small garden has been teaching me, I came to think of it as a wise friend who knows so much more than I do, and is willing to share all that she has to share.
With gardening, it is never a zero-sum game. Some years, I am for sure putting way more money and time into growing the plants than the food I am actually harvesting. But, it is not only about such material gains. The garden is a gift that keeps on giving, in so many more ways.