Only Child on healing through gardening

Only Child looks forward to quiet time on the patio in the back garden.

I need to garden now to heal. And the weather and the garden itself look promising.

Monday, I saw the first robin of the season. The robin was moving across my front yard. The lawn hasn’t yet turned green, but in the back clumps of tulips and hyacinths are poking above the ground. I need colour, so yesterday I “dragged” my legs over to the local garden centre and bought two potted pansies. I put one on the picnic table on the backyard patio and hauled out a small table for the veranda and placed pansy plant number two there. Already I’ve been sitting outside to eat breakfast and lunch. Now with daylight saving time, dinners outside will soon follow.

This winter may have been the warmest in years in southern Ontario, Canada. But it also turned into one of my worst winters for physical health problems – two viruses in a month, acting as catalyst for a severe Vitamin D and Calcium deficiency causing extreme pain in the bone below my knee.  Hence the dragging my legs to and from the garden centre.

So, I repeat, I need to garden to heal. I need to get outside more in the sunshine. I need to remove the dead tops of last year’s perennials so this year’s perennials can appear and blossom. I need to turn the soil. I need to plant seeds – once my seed order comes through. Like nearly everything else, preparing the seed order and mailing it got put on the back burner until it threatened to burn. I need to tour the garden and see the wonder of what is happening. I need to sit out more in the garden, on the patio and on the veranda. Then I can receive the gift of Vitamin D from the sunshine and my leg will continue to heal. Just going outside into the garden, and buying the pansies lifted my spirits.

Gardening is therapeutic. As Anne Marie Chaker writers in The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304620304575165831058222608.html, many nursing homes and hospitals are incorporating gardening of some sort – even just sitting out in the garden – as a way to heal. Being in a garden can change moods from bad to good and lower the stress level. When I yank out weeds, I pretend I am yanking my problems out of my life. That gets interesting when I superimpose a person (or persons) who have been making my life hell. But it beats yelling at the person, and afterwards I feel at peace and many weeds now lie in the compost or yard waste bin.

Studies show the therapeutic value of gardening. Two studies published last year in Issues in Mental Health Nursing (2011;32(1):73-81) showed that depressed individuals involved in a 12-week horticultural program with a three-month follow-up found the severity of their depression decreased. Participants felt the program was meaningful and influenced their life. (Pub Med http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21208054)

Horticultural Therapy, although emerging as a trend in healing therapy, is not new. Dr. Benjamin Rush, who signed The American Declaration of Independence, said that gardens held “curative effects” for mentally ill people. (See http://www.ahta.org/content.cfm?id=history). There are national therapeutic associations such as The American Horticultural Therapy Association (http://www.ahta.org)  and The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association  which defines horticultural therapy (in part) as “Horticultural Therapy (HT) is a formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities, and the garden landscape to promote well-being for its participants.” (See http://www.chta.ca/about_ht.htm for more information about horticultural therapy). Also see the CHTA’s links page (http://www.chta.ca/links.htm) which gives a bird’s-eye view of horticultural therapy in practice in Canada.

Meanwhile, back in my Toronto garden, I can’t wait to spend many hours digging, planting, pulling weeds, collecting flowers and arranging them in vases inside, and sitting back and enjoying the colours, scents and sights. Maybe gardening as healing is intuitive. My late mother also started early in her garden and I followed her. For some reason I equate our gardening with religion. Perhaps I was close; it wasn’t the religion so much but the healing of mind, body and spirit. As I write in my memoir in the chapter titled, “Practising Gardening and Religion”

In April, when the first tulip showed its face in the flowerbed under the living room window, Mom had to get out in her garden and do her vegetable, fruit and flower business. In the beginning, Mom and I moved in tandem with the garden and religion like we found parallels in them – both had beauty, filled us with awe, seemed to bring some order and ritual to our lives: plant seeds in spring and be rewarded with beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetables and fruit in summer; go to Mass and communion on Sunday and be rewarded in life with only good. For some of that time, Dad was still around to join us.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

And a footnote to last week’s posting on what memoir writing means to me… My guest blog, “Writing from the Heart,” about writing short personal essays/memoir for print and online publications appears on the Networds blog at http://www.networds.ca/Blog/content/writing-heart.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Gardening, Gardening and depression, Gardening health benefits, Healing through gardening, Horticultural Therapy, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, Stress, Vitamin D Deficiency

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