Many people have found new meaning in their gardens during the pandemic. But the benefits of gardening are not just pandemic related. Master Gardener Mary Alice Ramsey shares how her garden was both physical and mental therapy during difficult times.
Dreams, hopes, plans, and life await me in the garden
My vegetable garden is an established area with raised beds, pathways, fences, compost bins, benches, and a garden shed—an inviting area for me to plant, grow, and harvest. But during the pandemic, four joint surgeries, each about six months apart, left me unable to garden as extensively and independently as was my habit.
In the winter and early spring of 2020, as the world stocked up on groceries and toilet paper, I stocked up on seeds. I planned, prepped, plotted, and planted—all in preparation for a garden that ultimately I could not maintain. Although my first shoulder surgery left me temporarily with the use of only one arm, I still tried to cultivate the soil.
As the world spun in pre-vaccine isolation, my garden became my solace. There were more weeds than usual in the pathways, but I took the time to focus on the flowers. I lost a few plants from neglect, but I slowed to enjoy blueberries and butterflies, turtles and toads. My husband, for the first time ever, canned beans. And we gave produce away.
I didn’t get the garden completely cleaned up in autumn before my first knee surgery, but somehow the garden didn’t mind. It rested and waited for me. When I was ready to walk with a cane, my garden invited me to visit and to dream again. In the spring, I tended the plot, unable to kneel and with only one usable arm. I learned to accept help from others. My husband volunteered for the big tasks, my children and grandchildren assisted, and masked neighbors came to move spreading perennials.
2021 brought a second knee replacement, further delaying the attention I was able to give to the garden. So, while scarecrows guarded tomatoes and squash, I picked blueberries and let weeds grow through the mulch. At season’s end, I trimmed and raked and mulched with an imperfect gait, still using only one hand. My garden did not receive its usual thorough autumn clean up, but again, it didn’t seem to mind. It just waited.
While COVID and its variants rampaged, I struggled to cope with both the physical and emotional toll of my repeated medical challenges. I learned not let the garden nag me for attention or overwhelm me with expectations. Instead, the garden became an invitation to stay connected to the earth. It was something to look forward to. I overlooked the imperfections of the pathways and planting beds, just as my garden overlooked my imperfections and limitations. I walked slowly amid the beds and rows with my bandages and slings and limps. I acquired new tools to make gardening easier and more efficient for my limited abilities. And I modified my methods of work.
This year, I continue to heal. I will prepare the soil, clean the pathways, plant the seeds and transplants—and the garden will heal. Neither of us was injured beyond repair. Both needed physical therapy. I accepted help from family and neighbors who gained experience and garden giveaways. I learned to accept a bit of disarray. Debris invited solitary bees and created box turtle habitats. My garden produced a limited harvest but was an unlimited inspiration. During COVID, my garden beckoned me beyond my comfort zone. It seduced me with an upcoming season. It promised me the future as it soothed my mental anguish.
We will make it through the pandemic—one step at a time, one trowel at a time, one emerging plant at a time, one opening flower at a time, and one ripening fruit or vegetable at a time. Neither the world nor our gardens are beyond repair. We’re all healing in one way or another.
As I gaze toward my sleeping garden now, I know that it continues to wait for me. The pandemic brings challenges, but my garden invites dreams. It invites plans. It invites hopes. It invites me.
Article written by Extension Master GardenerSM, Mary Alice Ramsey.