Consider the gifts of the garden

Richard Bogren  |  12/16/2016 9:20:42 PM

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(12/23/16) I often write columns on timely information about what needs to be done in the garden. I remember once meeting a gentleman who said that his wife read my columns faithfully. After reading about what to do in the garden, she would make a list of the tasks for him to do that weekend.

He thanked me for providing such helpful advice and asked if I minded a suggestion for a column topic. I’m always on the lookout for interesting topics and asked what he had in mind. After a brief hesitation he said, “Well, could you do a column sometime about just sitting back and enjoying your garden?”

I chuckle each time I recall that conversation. But he did have a point. We too often spend so much time working in the garden that we can forget to simply sit down and appreciate what we have accomplished.

We also focus so much on what we have to do for our gardens and landscape that we forget what we receive in turn. And during this busy time of year when giving and receiving gifts are so much part of the season, it’s good to consider the many gifts our gardens give us.

Easily appreciated are the bright flowers, sweet fruit, delicious vegetables and delightful fragrances. These are the gifts that often come to mind first.

With a little effort, we can also realize that plants provide privacy and enclosure for outdoor living spaces and shade that is so critical in the torrid heat of summer. Indeed, trees that shade our homes from the blazing summer sun even save us money on our energy bills by reducing how hard air conditioners have to work.

Gardening is a well-documented and beneficial form of exercise. It contributes to a healthy lifestyle, and I am always impressed when I meet gardeners in their 70s, 80s and even 90s who are still actively gardening.

I have to admit it’s like pulling teeth to get me out walking or exercising on a piece of equipment. But I can’t wait to get out and dig a bed to plant flowers or a crop of vegetables.

While 30 minutes on my stationary exercise bicycle goes on and on, time seems not to matter as I move from job to job in my gardens. And as tired as I might be after a day’s work in the garden, I also feel great satisfaction. I know that something inside me has been nourished and refreshed by the labor.

Something about gardening relieves stress and tension. Working with plants seems to have a calming influence on people. Plants don’t argue with us or tell us what to do. We can get great satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment in planting a garden bed with colorful flowers or a vegetable garden with healthy transplants. I find pulling weeds is especially effective in relieving the stresses of work and family.

I think the human spirit is most fulfilled when we create and nurture. Gardeners understand that gardening is more than just growing plants. It fills a deep yearning for the connection we need to something beyond ourselves. A gardener comprehends the life in plants and their quiet struggle to live. Gardening is a partnership between the plants and the gardener to the benefit of both.

Gardens reaffirm our link with nature and help us recognize that living things like plants and wildlife have a place in our lives. Gardens teach us to nourish and appreciate the living world, not just use it.

Gardening is also a wonderful way to introduce children to the natural world. From appreciating the beauty of a flower, delighting in the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or understanding that vegetables don’t just appear in the supermarket, gardens can enrich the lives of youngsters in wonderful ways.

In addition, your landscape is a gift to your community. Well-tended lawns and front gardens full of colorful flowers, trees and shrubs enrich a neighborhood and create a sense of pride, not to mention improve property values. One caring gardener can inspire others on a block to help create a more attractive and pleasant place to live.

Finally, gardens give us a sense of place. I believe that we belong as much to our gardens as they do to us. A garden, whether it is a collection of container plants on an apartment balcony or an extensive landscape, provides a place where we can be who we are without judgment or criticism.

There are no time clocks in the garden and no one we need to please but ourselves. (Well, we do need to keep our plants happy.) You could even think of a garden as a refuge, although I always feel connected to things around me in a garden rather than isolated.

So, if you need a break from this often hectic season of the year, go out into your garden and touch a leaf or smell a flower. You will feel the life-giving power that waits only for you to notice it, and it will calm the stress.

When I go out into my garden on Christmas Day and see colorful flowers and vibrant green foliage, when I hear the songs of birds and then reach down to feel the living earth in my hands, I can’t help but think, “Thanks, this is just the gift I wanted most.”

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The camellia japonica provides a spot of color in a winter landscape in Louisiana. Photo by Dan Gill

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The fragrance of sweet olive can permeate a landscape. Photo by Dan Gill

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