Take time to enjoy gardening's healing qualities

Dahlias, zinnias, and pink anemones - combined with
blackberry lily seed pods - make pretty fall bouquets.
On Sunday morning, I was surprised to see a female hummingbird visit my potted plants, because I had thought hummingbirds were long gone by now. I decided to hang my feeder back up to help any other migrants that may be traveling through.

When I entered the back garden, the blue jay and wren were both waiting for me, checking their empty feeder (which I had not filled this summer). It's as if they also know the season is changing, and that the food should be there.

Autumn appeared suddenly, bringing with it longer shadows, crisp cool mornings, and the advent of fall foliage. This is an especially busy time for me, because I volunteer on weekends, in addition to going to grad school and work during the week.

I'm still trying to figure out how to find a larger chunk of free time that can be spent in the garden. Long gone are the summer nights where the sun set close to 9 p.m. - leaving so much time for catch up work in the garden. Now the sun sets around 6:30 p.m. and by 7 p.m., the darkness makes it feel so much later than it really is.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I'm frustrated when life gets too busy for gardening.

If you are a subscriber to this blog, you may have noticed that my Floral Friday posts have been going up out of order since August - also known as the time my life became very busy. I have the photos from the garden, but it's been difficult to find the time to sit down and go through them and upload them here. So instead they arrive by piecemeal.

Floral Friday always has been a way of documenting what happens in the garden, but now it makes me sad to review the photos of the past two months. It makes me think of how much time I lost outside. My relationship with the garden is distant at the moment, but I know I will be welcomed back once life calms down a bit. Returning to nature is a way to recenter oneself in life. Considering this, is it any surprise that gardens can heal?

A 2012 article published on the Scientific American website cites past studies of "how three to five minutes spent looking at views dominated by trees, flowers or water can begin to reduce anger, anxiety, and pain and induce relaxation." Maybe that's why nature-oriented people - like myself - use garden scenes as desktop wallpaper on work computer stations. (My current choice is a lavender-covered field.)

The article goes on to include a checklist of what qualities must exist to makes a garden "healing." While it is intended for the implementation of a healing garden at a hospital or care facility, many of the suggestions listed are elements that gardeners seem to include naturally in their gardens often subconsciously, such as engaging multiple senses ("gardens that can be seen, touched, smelled and listened to").

Other research concluded that just being in contact with soil – technically with Mycobacterium vaccae – has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which is attributed to elevating one's mood and decreasing anxiety.  Maybe that's why, in the middle of winter, that I turn my kitchen table into seed-starting headquarters, where I spend endless hours scooping soil into empty seed trays to start my late-winter ritual. 

Even though finding time for gardening has been difficult, the moments I can steal away to be in the garden or simply talk about gardening have been rewarding. I was so lucky to have been interviewed in August by Jennifer Ebeling of the "Still Growing" podcast, and was asked to return for her first annual Bulb Party which was recorded right after Labor Day. I've been planning my spring garden in bits and pieces this month, and I have taken time to go outside to cut flowers to bring inside to enjoy.

So, while I must return to writing papers and studying for exams, I think it's important to take a small slice of the day out and enjoy the garden. If you can't get outside, due to darkness for example, it can be time spent indoors tending houseplants. Or you could go outside and sit in a garden chair. Just 10 minutes walking about the garden can reground you. But in this time, set ground rules, such as "don't fret about the weeds." In fact, if an area is especially weedy, visit another portion of the garden. Find a spot where you like to sit and close your eyes. Breathe in the air, scented with the changing leaves. Listen to the wind's breeze or whisper. Touch the grass beneath you.

In my case with the hummingbird, if I hadn't gone outside I would have missed seeing her entirely. And even though the encounter only lasted about two minutes, seeing her at my flowers really brightened my day and made me stop and enjoy the moment. And isn't that what gardening is really supposed to be about?

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