Why do you garden? It’s a difficult question and much harder to answer than how to garden. So, we decided to seek help from our Buncombe County Master Gardeners and record their responses in a blog series that we’ll call Soil-full Musings.
Throughout the year, we’ll pose a “why do you garden” question and ask these Master Gardeners to share their stories, motivations, heartfelt feelings, learnings, and advice. We expect their responses to be as numerous and varied as the plants they love to raise.
This month the question is: How has gardening helped you cope with the pandemic? It’s a timely question as we enter this third pandemic year. Two of our gardeners share their insights and experiences in the blog today and another one tomorrow. We hope that you will be inspired by their stories and find new meaning and appreciation for your own gardening journey.
Asking “why garden” is like asking “why do you breathe”
For Master Gardener intern Janet Reilly, gardening is just part of her DNA. It’s something she can’t live without. She recounts her first garden memory as discovering a bleeding-heart flower in her mother’s garden and she’s been hooked ever since.
“I’ve been gardening for more than four decades in various parts of the country including both coasts,” Janet says. “Today I’m most drawn to gardening for pollinators which must be a throwback to the early gardens full of “old fashioned” cottage plants that inspired me as a child. I devour books about gardening. They teach me, inspire me, and take me to a happy place. I remember so well reading The Secret Garden as an 8-year-old child and becoming aware that a garden could change a life. It could be a safe place, a haven of joy, and a way to create relationships with others.
“Little did I realize how much my life during COVID would be influenced by that simple understanding. My husband and I had only been in Asheville six months when COVID invaded our world. We were new to town. I had grand plans for the gardens I wanted to plant at the house we had purchased. Then life handed me an early-stage cancer diagnosis and my husband underwent a surgical heart procedure. Today we are fine, but we recognize that the pandemic lockdown and isolation may have actually been a blessing for us.”
With a sigh of incredulity, Janet shrugs and continues. “I am an impatient gardener—in a hurry to get it done and see results. But COVID slowed everything down, including me. I didn’t want to be out in public while undergoing cancer treatments, so I was left with plenty of time to explore the garden at my new home. Over the first COVID year, I delighted in happy surprises as plants popped through the ground in spring. I took time to monitor sun, shade, wind, and water patterns across multiple seasons so that my future plans to expand planting beds or transplant overgrown shrubs aligned with my environment. I would sit silently in the garden, watching and listening. I absorbed the presence of birds and caterpillars, movement and smells, colors and shapes—details I might have otherwise missed in my impatient gardener mode.
“You know, COVID has affected so many people in so many different ways—sometimes tragically.” Janet pauses and takes her time before she expresses her next thought. “My COVID experience led to an increased appreciation of nature and gratitude for my ability to garden. What I hope is that the lessons I learned will be passed along to others and sustained for many lifetimes.
“COVID taught me to appreciate my physical abilities but to also be aware of my limitations. I stretch more before heading to the garden and pace myself once there. I give thanks for the ability to lift a bag of dirt, dig a hole, remove a weed, and simply walk among the plants.
“I’ve become more open to change and find it adventurous to explore different gardening techniques. I’ve decided to try growing vegetables in pots on the deck—something less physically challenging. I’m experimenting with clean-up alternatives to raking leaves and cutting back perennials in the fall, as a way to encourage and sustain pollinators. I keep up with my reading by downloading gardening podcasts or books and listening while I work in the garden.
“But the most incredible gift I received during the pandemic was mindfulness—learning to be in the moment, fine-tuning all my senses to absorb the wholeness of nature around me. In these trying times, I pray not to be scared by the things I cannot control, but to find peace and reassurance in the beauty and resilience of a garden. Whether that is the backyard, a flowerpot on the front step, or a walk through the forest, nature’s garden awaits us all.”
Article written by Beth Leonard, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.