The Unsung Gift of the Garden

bench in Zen garden
bench in Zen garden

One of the most profound gifts the garden has given me – is something you rarely hear talked about. That is the very physical-ness of garden work and what that does for you – body, mind and spirit. I was reminded of this recently when we went through a period of heavy smoke from forest fires that was bad enough to keep me inside for several days. And I noticed that, not only did I feel out-of-sorts and off kilter, but my whole body was stiffening up and getting odd aches and pains.

I found since we moved here 8 years ago, that a number of physical problems have actually cleared up, not something you expect when you are in your 70’s. I had a chronic lower back problem that went away after a few months of working in the woods clearing slash through the cold and wet of winter! And this year I put in a lot of extra time in the garden creating several new planted areas; native plantings around our new frog pond as well as the pond itself, a new area I am calling the Zen garden – although it’s not terribly “zen” looking, and a new Pollinator/Butterfly
garden. I also cleared the underbrush and many small trees from a patch of woodland that lies between the pond and the orchard. All this along with keeping up with my regular annual food plants and all the planting, mulching, weeding, watering, trimming/pruning, etc. that goes on in a garden.

Bench and the spiral Rain Garden
Bench and the spiral Rain Garden

I realized at one point in mid-summer that I was feeling better and stronger than I had in a long time, and I’m sure it was, to a great extent, because I was spending so many extra hours a day working in the garden.

I learned a really excellent thing from my parents a few years back. I lived next door to them the last 7 years of their lives (they both lived to 90!) and watched them take care of their lovely acre of land by themselves right up to the end. The way they did it was to have a lightweight folding lawn chair that they hauled to wherever they were working, and when they got tired they would sit down for a little while and rest. Then they would get up and do some more, instead of getting tired and quitting and going in the house, as I think most folks do.  Now – wherever I’m working in the garden there is a chair, and when I get tired I sit down. I have a very sweet cat named Fizzy Wig, who follows me around and just waits for me to do that! Then she hops up on my lap for a cuddle and a snooze. There is something supremely relaxing about a cat purring on your lap…

Frog pond, hugel mound and chairs.
Frog pond, hugel mound and chairs.

I had a number of groups tour the garden this summer, and invariably someone would comment on all the work of taking care of such a big garden. In pondering the question I realized that that is actually one of the great benefits of the garden!  It gets me out there day after day, breathing fresh air, nibbling on tasty treats that I come upon as I wander and weed and trim and plant and mulch– hauling wheelbarrows of compost and wood chips, raking, bending a 100 times a day to do something, walking and walking and walking…breathing and smiling and sweating…

It’s a nice thing to remember when what you are doing in your garden seems just too hard and tiring… that your body is going to thank you for this one day.

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