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Random Thoughts: Gardening as Therapy*

*Plus some practical advice if you read on…

I am an extremely lazy person. But when I garden, my body and mind are engaged, and usually working together, which is good because if you’re lugging a 20lb sack of stones you want to pay attention to where you’re going.

When I work in the garden I have conversations with family and friends, both living and departed. And I revisit old conversations – “why did I say this instead of that?” or “now it’s clear what they were trying to tell me.”

I wonder about people I lost touch with decades ago, if they made a life and career that made them happy.

But most of the time all I think about is exactly what’s happening at the moment – lugging that bag of stones, filling watering cans, spreading mulch, dividing and replanting flowers, checking to see if the birds and squirrels left any fruit on the grapevine or fruit trees (the answer is usually no), digging out a root that must be attached to a plant in Beijing.

No matter what I’m doing out there, it’s all therapeutic.

I’ve also had fun helping family and friends with their gardens, too. Mostly choosing plants and pointing, but it still counts.

And years ago I decided to try designing gardens on a larger scale. I signed up for some courses, learned a lot, placed an ad in the local paper and started working. Of course it’s not the least bit therapeutic when you’re directing a crew and moving rocks and digging dozens of holes. But it was nice to know you were giving people beautiful outdoor space to tinker or just sit and relax. More than one client told me the day we installed their garden was one of the happiest of their lives. That made me happy. Sore, but happy.

Okay, now for some practical advice…

1. Read the label – when you buy a plant, flowering or not, and the label says “full sun” it means at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. If you plant something that requires full sun in the shade the plant won’t perform the way it should, which means it won’t achieve its potential size and it probably won’t flower much, either.

2. Stand up – weeding is necessary, but putting your back out isn’t. When you’re lugging heavy things, on your knees weeding, or planting patio or porch pots follow this rule: every 10 minutes stand up and stretch for 1 minute. Never mind “just one more” anything. That last heavy pot will still be there after your minute of standing and stretching.

3. Buy what you like – don’t agonize that the exterior of your home is the wrong color for a particular flowering plant or shrub you love. If you like it, buy it, plant it and enjoy it. As long as you remember step No. 1. And having said that….

4. Never plant herbs in the ground – unless you want a yard filled with mint, horseradish, thyme, catnip, lemon balm, oregano and other herbs you will never fully get under control. I am still yanking out lemon balm I thought was all gone years ago. So plant all herbs in containers. Use cheap plastic pots from garden centers, and keep them watered and in a sunny spot. At the end of the season I leave the pots for the squirrels to hide nuts in, and in the spring I empty them and fill them with fresh potting soil.

5. We don’t need chemicals in our gardens – even big box stores now carry organic mixtures to kill weeds and pests while keeping butterflies, hummingbirds and honey bees safe.

6. Do it now or close to now – you might think I’m exaggerating, but if there were an Olympic gold medal for sitting around I’d be in history books. When you see something that needs doing, don’t be like me. A weed that’s tiny on Saturday will look like a tree by Thursday.

XO Brenda

P.S. – If you have gardening questions let me know!

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Susan Nashawaty
Susan Nashawaty
1 month ago

Exactly how I feel and what I do. Especially when in need to expend excess energy, anxiety, depression, figure something out, hand mowing my 2.5 acres and tending to 45 yrs worth of plantings is the key. Love everything is perennials now, divided and transferred, except for herbs and 2 tomato (I’m Italian, alright!!lol) in containers. I was so wowed by your Harvard Degree in design( you never do anything half way) ! You always look for ways to beautify our world!

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