Gardening means many things, depending on why you might want it or need it in your life. Time has shaped this art from culturally diverse backgrounds, and people will continue to find more uses for it every day, especially with the Green Revolution reshaping American culture. I would like to share with you what this practice means to me as a “gardener.” Along the way, I’ll attempt to show that everyone can become a green thumb, or at least thoroughly enjoy the work of others. People from many walks of life dabble in the dirt and benefit immensely. Whether for survival through farming or therapeutically for pleasure and aesthetics, gardening is a valuable art. Cultivation offers beautiful solace and a connection with this planet that supports our fragile existence.
Gardening for food production arose as a development of the human species starting as small-scale, semi-permanent settlements and slowly evolving into larger permanent establishments. The evolution of human farming culture has been traced to the Neolithic Period, and commonly it’s considered one of the biggest advancements in human history. Unfortunately, along the way, we have caused much destruction to our environment through our developments. From subsistence farming to monoculture (growing a single crop over a broad area for an extended period of time) and intensive agriculture, humans have changed the planet drastically. Now, many people are returning to their roots, back to small inexpensive or free subsistence farming methods, utilized with little infrastructure or exterior support. The urban farming and micro-farming movements create small oases within increasingly urban environments. they offer relief from the many stresses of life, including our dependence on a large scale, monetary food supply system.
People also love gardens for their beauty, including those who wouldn’t consider themselves gardeners. This inspiration shows through in arts such as writing, music, and visual arts like botanical illustration. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers poetically states that “Paradise is a synonym for garden, and the garden is often a paradise in the minds of those whose happiest hours are spent in one.” I have been involved in aesthetic gardening for almost seven years — as a family tradition, but also as an occupation. My family and I provide gardening service to create bountiful colors from frost to frost in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
New and old gardening styles fit in the aesthetic gardening genre, and these styles all originate from varying cultural backgrounds. For instance, the zen garden, a traditional Asian style of landscaping, has a specific individualized spiritual purpose that isn’t usually culinary. Another example is the formal English garden, based on an idealized view of nature in which each plant is manicured and has its own defined space. English gardens offer inspiring places to escape, write, read, think, teach, and grow food, medicine, and glorious foliage. In my own garden, I also work for beauty, pleasure, inspiration and therapy. I cultivate for culinary and visual appeal although I wouldn’t say I practice any specific style.
Gardening is so therapeutic it’s used as a treatment option for many ailments, whether you receive actual horticultural therapy or just take a walk through a garden. Studies have shown that “when people spent time in natural settings their stress levels were reduced, enabling them to focus on daily activities with greater attention and enjoyment.” Growing is an enlivening practice that exposes us to life outside of our own, and it gives us hope in sour times. Horticultural therapy has four subcategories: horticultural therapy, therapeutic horticulture, social horticulture and vocational horticulture. The first includes an individualized plan developed for specific purposes by a trained therapist. The next involves a therapist more specifically trained in the use of plants to promote well-being and includes a less specific therapy plan. The third, social horticulture or community horticulture, is the simple leisurely involvement with plants and gardening and doesn’t include a therapeutic plan. Then, the last defined form of horticultural therapy is vocational, often included in other therapy plans and intended to leave participants with training enabling them to continue professional work in the field of horticulture.
From the definitions above, we know that simple plant-related activities are healing. Without even realizing it, we are taking part in a therapeutic process when exposed to a natural environment. For example, a close friend of mine has always returned to the garden as she struggles with an addiction to crystal meth. Without knowing why, gardening became her choice therapy, and when soberness took hold, she realized the blessings received from the garden. Spending the previous months gardening religiously, she’d stopped using drugs with little or no outside intervention. Her excitement for life grew, and she acquired clientele of her own. She overcame a terribly difficult portion of recovery by spending time in the garden. In fact, she hardly underwent the depression associated with stopping methamphetamine use. Hearing her experiences added to my desire immensely, to share the joy and healing potential of gardening with others, and I will forever encourage people to take part in the world of plants.
Much of my inspiration came through my lineage and into the garden, so I have a nostalgic and ancestral connection to cultivation arts. A little while ago, I found new inspiration for my endeavors. I took a vacation to New York City, a trip I’ve planned to make since I was twelve, after seeing “The Orchid Show” on an episode of Martha Stewart Living. “The Orchid Show” takes place every year at The New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, New York, and this year I went! There were other things I wanted to do while visiting this vast metropolis, but nothing else enticed me more than the orchids. I visited the Botanical Garden towards the end of my trip on a rainy cold day, perfect since the show took place inside the historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory built in 1902. At first glance, I was awestruck, and for the next three hours I didn’t look at anything but beautiful lush orchids displayed amongst tropical foliage. The colors stimulated my eyes, the scent in the air varied continually, and I thought this must be heaven.
Encounters like these bring me to the recurring realization that no matter who you are and what you believe, you surely eat food, and you too have an ancestral connection with plants. You might think I walked into the show and knew a million things about orchids, but no, I am a Colorado gardener from a high, cold, and arid region and have no experience working in tropical climates. There existed a vastly new environment of life systems and cycles than I’m accustomed to. Therefore, I challenge you to step outside your box and take a walk through a park, garden, or forest for any or no reason at all. See for yourself what inspiration you may find. Maybe you’ll paint the scenery, observe the insect life, or gather your thoughts. Maybe you’re a photographer, a writer, a musician, a teacher, or a parent. Regardless, everyone can feed from the garden.