No one without hope plants a garden

Bonnie Doerr’s therapy garden.

No one without hope plants  a garden
August 25
14:06 2021

By Bonnie Doerr

Remember when you were young and you thought anyone the age you are now was (fill in the blank)? Whatever word(s) you put in the blank, those words likely describe a person far less complex, vibrant, and contributory than you are. 

I’m amused at my own youthful thoughts but when I sift through them, I find I have something in common with the young me – an appreciation for nature and thus the responsibility to protect and nurture its beauty. (Thank you, Boy Scout dad.) Gardening has been a direct outgrowth of these enduring loves.

The practice of growing plants, small or large, in pots of all sizes or in-ground gardens, be they tiny or farm-sized, has sustained me over the years, especially during stressful times. Every place I’ve called home, and there have been many, has been filled with or surrounded by plants. 

We all know science speaks to the health benefits of indoor plants and spending time in outdoor, natural settings. Not sure when we build a garden it can be considered a natural setting, but here in North Carolina we are blessed with an abundance of natural settings. I’m extra blessed to have built my gardens within a glorious forest wall. Would young me have guessed at age 73 I could or even should be doing this work?

We’ve all had one heck of a stressful year and mine has been extra stressful as I cared for my late husband. Season by season, throughout this pandemic year, simply gazing through windows at my old gardens and the woods beyond provided comfort. Doing so reminded me there was a world beyond the makeshift hospital room in my small home. As spring arrived, any time home healthcare was here, I briefly escaped outside to check on my existing gardens, looking for changes in growth or signs of disease plant by plant, while yanking out weeds one at a time. 

Weeding is an effective way to release anger. “Out damned weed! Out I say!” (Yes, I talk to plants, both welcome and not.) Weeding produces visible change, immediate progress toward a garden’s health. Enabling healthy progress was something I was helpless to do for my husband. I’d actually get excited to discover a squash bug, Japanese beetle, or best of all, a stink bug. Why? Because of the crazy satisfaction I’d get from squashing those critters. “Take that, you evil invader!” (Okay, I talk to bugs too.) A stink bug’s lingering odor prolonged the satisfaction of destroying something detrimental to my plants. Destroying invasive bugs was another thing I couldn’t do for my husband.

Little by little I began to plan a new, bigger garden within feet of my house. So close I’d be able to step outside when no one else was here with my husband. Could I bring the remnants of a dying garden back to life? Phone in the pocket of my cargo pants, a new wardrobe staple, and ear to any alerts from Salty, my canine alarm system, I spent small chunks of time outdoors to plan a bigger, better, and stronger mental health support system, “Bonnie’s Therapy Garden.” I knew I was going to need much more solace in the coming months. 

I wish my husband could see how successful my therapy has been. Caring for the garden hasn’t healed my heart, but with its challenging ups and downs, it feeds my soul, calms my anxiety, teaches me acceptance, bolsters my patience, and provides hope for the future. These are all traits we refine as we age. 

No one without hope plants a garden.

Reprinted with permission from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem’s Aging Well publication. Bonnie Doerr lives in Winston-Salem with her dog, Salty.

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