Most gardeners and professional horticulturists believe that the act of creating, tending and sitting in a garden promotes well-being. The science of horticultural therapy provides backing to the notion that gardeners have speculated on since the beginning of man; which is: being outside in the presence of lush plants is good for us. We who tend gardens as a hobby or business receive the direct benefits, though we don’t often dwell on why this is so or how to cultivate a garden specifically to promote health.
Delving into history, the author of the Soul Garden shares the philosophies of others who, back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, have espoused the healing power of gardens. While recommending landscape features that inspire spirituality and the kinds of outdoor activities that can give meaning to our lives, the book also discusses some of the philosophic basis for horticultural therapy. Unfortunately, there is scant mention of the hard science that is being done in this burgeoning field.
One of the most powerful parts of the book for me was the discussion of what I would call gardening obsession and how the drive to work, improve and collect as part of the hobby can detract from the spiritual enjoyment one can take from the garden setting. As a gardening addict myself, I found some of this argument spot on, but other reasoning false.
For instance, collecting plants, knowing their classification and Latin names is satisfying for me as it expands my understanding of the individual plants themselves, the field of botany and related natural sciences. I suppose that if I were so obsessed with the act of collecting that I could not expand my appreciation for plants beyond the act of procuring and cataloging them, that might be another story.
The argument that did resonate with me is that it’s important to remind ourselves that if we only look at the garden through the eyes of the do-er, we aren’t taking advantage of the full power of the garden to ground and balance us. No doubt I am guilty of this; looking out into my yard and seeing only the chores, or the so-called failings in my mind, whether they be of design or maintenance. Or perhaps my focus is on stemming the tide of plant disease or death, when in reality, that’s part of the cycle of life that quite often we can’t control.
This book is a refreshing reminder to continually enjoy and find repose in the garden. After all, it we don’t take the time to savor the fruits of our labor, why is it that we tend and create gardens in the first place? In other words, if the hammock goes unused due to chores, perhaps one needs to re-think the garden. If the bench becomes merely a focal point at the intersection of an axis and not a place to stop, sit and appreciate the vista, the gardener needs to gently re-direct back to the concept of gardening for the soul.
© Colleen Miko, 2013