Garden of Many Wrinkles
There are those who believe, and I imagine actually experience, gardening, as an opportunity for de-stressing. I find that there is more to it. And some of what I find is hard work that can be stressful. I am retired now, after a 45+ year career as a clinical psychologist that was often quite stressful. So, I ask myself whether I am at times merely extending my proclivity for hard work to this new stage of adulthood. Possible. After all, there is the pleasure at the regularity and satisfaction of both.
There are tasks to be done. The plants have to be watered, fertilized, pruned and generally fussed over. Occasionally, it becomes clear that one or another plant just doesn't like its garden home and has to be either repositioned or discarded altogether. I used to think that I could be clever and install a timer-driven irrigation system, only to realize that it too had to be watched over. The random morning stroll through the garden could easily reveal a geyser emerging from a hole in a pipe. Or worse yet, there might be signs of sadness and wilt when a plant hasn't been getting water for much longer than it would prefer because some creature ate through an aspect of the delivery system. Also, as I get older, 2 new things come into play. In contrast to Huma Yasin's engaging her children and making gardening into a family affair, our children are grown and out. (She has a nice piece about this in the Sunday NYT, July 15, '18.) So maybe the ‘family that gardens together…' homily is best geared to children who can be recruited to get their hands dirty.
Also, every task that was and still is invigorating in the garden – from planting a flat of annuals to fertilizing and mulching and dead-heading roses – is now accompanied with sore knees, having to go to the bathroom too often, and just plain getting tired after 2 hours instead of after 5 hours. The garden is a measuring stick for aging. So just stop, you say, and pick up tomorrow with what you started today. I am very much in agreement. But then I have to live with giving myself permission to be a slacker, a feeling that goes away after a while if I can be clear with myself about when I will get out there again.
So what makes it worth doing? Just how does it combat (the inherent) stress it offers? There is little as rewarding as going into the garden and going from rose to rose and smelling each flower. It is a real kick to see stalks emerging from the bulbs which are usually not even visible for a few weeks after planting. And there are the birds, my dogs wandering underfoot, and the air of peacefulness. So the de-stressing battle is in me, I believe. I have to let myself construct a space that accounts for my own needs for the continuity and extension of my life cycle – and put the stressors aside.
My overall takeaway is that the garden stress is a reflection of just how ready I am to de-stress. Gardening is not only a barometer of my stress level but an invaluable opportunity to hone my inner stress management skills.
photo by Jennifer Baumbach