As a landscape consultant, I am certainly committed to helping my clients have a beautiful yard that requires a minimum of work. But when my clients tell me that what they really want is a no-maintenance garden, I can’t help but think, “Why on earth would you want that?”
You see I believe that gardening is good for people. Sure, it’s good physical exercise, but yard work has also given me opportunity for appreciation, wonder and insight.
A dying plant, for example, reminds me of how fortunate I am. Unlike much of the world, I’m not dependent on my garden for my winter’s food.
While working outdoors, my mind slows down and I notice quiet miracles. Weed seeds, dormant over months or even years, germinate when the conditions are just right. Finches annually find their way back to my maple, and make their nest in the same part of the tree every spring. The vegetables that will soon nourish my body are making food out of sunlight! This would all go unnoticed if I wasn’t outside, doing yard work.
It was in my garden that I learned not to fight grief. In 1967, when I was a junior in high school, my father died in a plane crash in Vietnam. I coped with his death the best I could: I ignored it as much as possible.
A year after the birth of my second child, however, the grief that I’d turned my back on as a teenager began to return, and it felt terrible. But I was a busy adult, and who has time to grieve? There was laundry to fold, children to raise and weeds to be pulled. I went out to the garden.
It was mid-summer and the soil was parched from a long period of drought. As I pulled at the quack grass I felt frustrated and angry about the lack of rain that made the soil hard and the weeding difficult.
I looked up, hoping for dark clouds, and suddenly realized the folly of making an enemy of the weather. The weather is just what it is. I didn’t like this stretch of hot, dry weather, but I had no choice but to cope with it the best I could.
“Don’t make an enemy of your weather,” I thought. In that moment I understood that I was making an adversary of my internal weather as well. I was resisting feeling grief because it felt awful but, like the period of drought, it was temporary and it was, after many years, here. I sat in my garden and allowed the front to roll in. I cried — hard. I pulled weeds, and cried, and finally mourned my father.
We live in a culture that glorifies ease, and we are, admittedly, very busy. Nevertheless, I’m not quick to wish for garden that requires no maintenance. I believe that as we tend our gardens, we cultivate insight, gratitude, humanity and joy.
C.L. Fornari is a writer and professional speaker who lives on Cape Cod. Her garden on the internet can be found at www.gardenlady.com