Gardens for Healing
by Carol Wallace
I put an iron gate up in my "main garden" so that I could use it to help me escape from the all-too-frequent drop-ins who wander in over the summer, bored. Just because they are bored and can find nothing to do doesn't mean that I am in the same boat. In fact, I have too much to do! So, if that gate is shut, it's a sign - "Do Not Disturb"
Sheltered by my gate, the roses clambering over the arbor, the gurgle of the frog fountain, I feel safe. Warm. Healed, in a way from the stress that dealing with difficult people can bring. Gardens are good therapy. Not just the act of gardening, but the act of being in a garden.Many studies have shown that gardens have a beneficial effect on illness; people with garden views from their hospital rooms seem to recover more quickly than those without. How can sunlight and fresh air and healthy, beautiful growing things be anything but healing? At least emotionally - and emotional healing is a big part of physical healing.
A New Kind of Therapy
This week, while the gardens work their slow magic on me, it also will play a very active part in another healing.
Two weeks ago my husband went to the local walk-in medical center with what he thought was indigestion. A very intuitive nurse practitioner (who spent 19 years as a cardiac nurse) felt that his "gas pain" was worthy of further investigation. And a mere week later, my husband's "gas pain" was cured with open-heart surgery. He is now the lucky owner of what amounts to a brand new heart - and of course he also has a brand new and very touchy incision to go with it.
If I had allowed myself to think beyond the usual, I might have been really frightened about more than the success of the surgery. . I have never been good at asking for help, but had been learning to ask him to help me with chores that I could no longer manage.
I can't do that now. Now it is I who must lift, bend, carry, and do all of those things that ordinarily I would leave for him - and many things even more trivial. Anything that weighs more than 5 pounds is mine to wrestle with - and will be for quite a while.
Ordinarily I would also have been on chauffeur duty, to take him for daily shuffles through the mall. I suspect that walking along with all the senior citizens would have frustrated my husband no end, and made him even more frustrated with things than he already is.
But the nurse who came to our house was wiser. She took a look at the property - the way things are laid out so that by doubling back here and there you can walk a good quarter mile just to see all the garden areas. She took into account the rise and fall of the sloped earth and pronounced that our garden was far better than any place she could think of for taking that rehabilitating twice-daily stroll.
Gardens as medicine
Was it only last month when I finally saw foxgloves beginning to bud that I made some joke about us not having to worry about heart problems with such a plentiful supply of digitalis? And now as we walk, my husband's shirt open to display the incisions, I joke about the lambs ears that we could use for bandages should he need them.
Was it last winter when my husband took a small bottle of essence of lavender to spray through the sickroom of a dying neighbor because it was said to reduce anxiety and the perception of pain? I walked in my garden today and saw something better than the spray bottle he carried. I began to pick small bouquets of the real thing to place around the room marked for my husband's convalescence.
Sitting in the area I have always thought of as my secret garden, we were about half way through his daily stroll. In this garden there are walls, and a pond with a burbling fountain - it is easy to feel as though the world has disappeared and we are in a small, home-made Eden. All around us we see life. In some cases we see the entire cycle, including death and rebirth.
The garden in itself seems like a miracle, emerging from the fiery ashes of last year's drought to become more lush and bountiful than ever before. It is a garden of hope right now, a place to relax, to pay attention to the pleasurable assault the garden makes on our five senses rather than focusing on something negative like pain.
A Natural Antidote to Boredom
Boredom is another enemy of healing - and I know that it will be a very short time before my husband is recovered enough to be able to do more than toss the chickens a handful of feed. But by then I can hand him light snipping shears for deadheading, or my circle hoe which makes most weeding jobs very low impact. He will meet new weeds every day - and so will always be needed for rescue jobs; he will also, in the inspection for things needing deadheading, get to know the individual plants better and to enjoy them more.
That is part of the healing - that while you are so restricted from performing even common tasks in the house, the garden will always need you - and many times the needs can be satisfied without strain. Seat yourself comfortably and gently tug at small weeds, or snip at tiny dead flowers. Soak up the sun and fresh air. Dream a little.
Luckily I have lavender growing almost everywhere and so if my husband needs some stimulation because he is wearying, or some relief from pain, he has but to bend slightly and breathe deeply.
Luckier still, there are areas of the yard planted so simply that they don't demand anything of the garden, but to relax and enjoy the coolness and tranquillity of the space. The gazebo - all planted with daylilies in near white pastels, hostas and ferns - will now get a wicker chaise so that my husband can sit and watch the dragonflies dip over the pond and the birds and squirrels fighting over whose territory the feeder is in. Chipmunks play tag there every afternoon. It's a restful area, but teeming with small, entertaining happenings that can keep one satisfactorily occupied. That is what you need when you heal. The sound of water going over the small waterfall, the chirp of baby robins in their nest, breezes through the ornamental grasses and the scent of roses and lilies wafting toward us on gentle breezes. Close your eyes. Rest a little. Heal - there is still plenty of garden to experience.
About the Author
Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.