From Here To There

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Musings

I’m thrilled to have Rebecca Sweet writing a guest post for GGW. She is a highly regarded garden designer, a respected blogger, and co-author of a wildly popular book on vertical gardening, Garden Up.  Besides all of these accomplishments,   Rebecca is what I think of as  a ‘soulful gardener’.  Read this article and you’ll understand why.  Fran Sorin

Photo1 - Path

A group of us garden designers recently blogged on the topic getting from here to there. Most wrote about gates, stairs, pathways and the like. But since, I’ve thought about how the phrase might represent a different kind of gardener’s journey: mentally getting from one place to another.

Gardening is a journey – how many times have we heard that? When a treasured plant unexpectedly dies, a family of gophers decides to move in, or a severe drought devastates our garden the concept of ‘it’s all part of the journey’ is what gets many of us through these disappointments.

Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy.

From my own personal experience, gardening is what pulled me out of a mind-numbing depression when I was in my thirties, going through a divorce. When hit with this suffocating sadness, I couldn’t stand the thought of gardening. After moving back home with my parents, with my small daughter in tow, my mother wisely took her time slowly introducing me to the joys of gardening again, letting me come around at my own pace.

Photo 2 - Pansies

It started with a nursery-pack of pansies that just showed up one day, with her ‘innocent’ request to help find a spot for them. Sneaky, isn’t she? She knew that enough time had passed and I needed to go back into the garden. And the moment my hands touched the little clusters of roots and I inhaled the scent of the damp soil, the bubble that enveloped me began to disappear.

A client of mine is going through something similar. Her husband of 40 years left her. The sadness I see in her face is something I recognize, and that I’m so looking forward to helping erase. As we travel through her old and outdated garden filled with oddly clipped pittosporum, overgrown masses of agapanthus, and ivy that has taken over a once beautiful perennial bed, I can see she’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to begin. This garden of hers is like her current life – neglected, dated, uninspired and needing some serious attention.

While I’d love to remove everything all at once, wiping the slate clean and starting fresh, I know that would be too much for her to handle right now. So we’re taking baby steps and only focusing on a small area near her patio’s sliding glass door. Why did I choose this area? Part of her morning routine is to sit under her covered patio, drinking her coffee while reading the newspaper. Until we figure out the overall design of the garden (something we’re working on throughout the next few months) I want her day to begin by experiencing a bit of beauty up close. A glimpse into the future as to what her garden can become.

Photo 3- Corsican Hellebore

We’re heading into winter soon so I need to pay particular attention to plant choices. My strategy is to hit her depression hard with sweet smells and surprising blooms. I’m thinking sarcococca rustifolia (Sweetbox) is a perfect selection as it’s not only evergreen but will fill her room with a sweet fragrance in the bleak months of February and March. I’ll also use helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) with its late-winter surprise of happy lime green blooms. The third plant I’m thinking of is the old-fashioned daphne odora ‘Marginata’. Blooming directly after the sarcococca, the heavenly scent from the profuse clusters of delicate pink flowers are sure to penetrate her soul.

Oh, how I’m hoping this little trio of plants can help guide her ‘from here to there’.

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Laura October 15, 2011, 8:37 am

I often go out to pull weeds, turn my compost of just inhale the scents in my garden when I feel a little down.

Gardening is really powerful, I always had plants around me, even when I lived in a tiny apartments. I had a jasmine plant that lived in a crowded vase for years, saved from a woman who was throwing it away. It moved with me four times and is finally home and beautifully covering an ugly fence, from here to there indeed.

Rebecca Sweet October 15, 2011, 11:22 am

Laura – you’ve so right! Aren’t certain garden scents wonderfully powerful and intoxicating? Jasmine is one of those smells that always puts me in a good mood, too. Oh yeah, that and citrus. I LOVE the smell of an orange tree in bloom!

cheryl monroe October 16, 2011, 8:08 am

you are so right …loved your take on the topic

Cathy October 16, 2011, 11:36 am

Rebecca, you have touched on an often under-appreciated aspect of gardening that we have lived first hand as well.

Gardening, for us, has been the glue that has bonded us in the worst of times. My husband and I built our gardens together. We began the project the summer that we became engaged (2002) and continuing on through our marriage (2003) to present. It has been a labor of love and a physical manifestation of our love for each other. It has also been the best medicine for both emotional trials and physical tribulations.

Many of the fragrances are uplifting and therapeutic – lavender and roses especially. In our garden, we can always find the perfect antidote when we are angry, tense, or sad, whether it be the perfume of Zephirine Drouhin or Double Delight, the fragrance of lavender or mint, or yes, the wonderful smell of dirt and manure.

One of our dogs has had two neurosurgeries and lavender was one of the essential ingredients in the herbal mixes we used to keep him quiet after surgery. (We were tasked with keeping a 4 month old puppy on bed rest.) Tot his day, he self-medicates with lavender and when we see him nibbling on the shoots or lying on the shrubs, we know that a visit to the vet is probably coming soon.

In 2005 I experienced a non-remitting flare of MS. By the summer of 2006, despite aggressive chemotherapy, I was in a wheelchair, attached to a ventilator, with a permanent feeding tube. My husband shouldered the burden of the gardening chores himself that summer, but every morning, he would wheel me out (with all of my assorted gadgetry) to be “with him” and to “direct him” (he does have a penchant for cultivating weeds and pulling up perennials).

It was hard during the worst of it not be able to garden, but it would have been worse if I had not been able to immerse myself in the beauty of it all. My vision was impaired and many times he would pluck or snip a bloom just so I could see it and smell it, and then put it in a glass or a vase at my bedside.

Things have improved greatly since those dark days, and a new experimental chemotherapy has brought some much needed relief. But my husband, who is a physician, would be the first to agree with you that gardening is the best medicine.

My husband has a home office and I’ve lost count of the number of patients he has walked through the gardens and how many have left with a pot of something. In the spring we pot up “extras” of everything and keep them in a wagon under the deck for visitors, friends, neighbors, and patients.

Thank you, Rebecca, for reminding us that there is more to a garden than just the beauty we see. And thank you, Fran, for inviting her to share her thoughts!

rebecca sweet October 16, 2011, 1:22 pm

Cathy, I am deeply touched by your comments and am so glad you’ve taken the time to post them for us all to read. You’ve said it better than I, my friend, and I’m so happy that you have such a thoughtful and understanding husband to help you through these difficult times.

One of my very first designs was for a woman who had a very aggressive form of MS, affecting both her eyesight and mobility. My goal was to create a garden that was filled with bright colors as well as being intensely fragrant. When the MS confined her to a wheelchair in her home, my hope was the bright colors would allow her to appreciate her garden from afar. And the fragrant jasmine, cleveland sage and lavender allowed her to appreciate it up close, in vases throughout her home.

Thank you, Cathy, for sharing such a touching story.

Jenny Peterson October 16, 2011, 8:33 pm

Oh, Rebecca–I’ll never get tired of hearing that story! It’s such a reminder to me of the gift of the world around us–gardens, plants, people– thank you so much for sharing a part of yourself and your story so that we can see ours better.

Sheila Schultz October 16, 2011, 10:16 pm

Dearest Rebecca,
Your words have such strength, now I know why. Thank you for your wisdom, sensitivity and humor.
Digging into the dirt is a good thing. Watching plants grow gives us all strength.
Sheila
Thanks Fran…

Dolores October 17, 2011, 2:10 pm

I too went thru a very difficult divorce and my best therapy was time and my garden. I tilled a rocky weed congested patch of dirt on my sidewalk. All the neighbors probably thought I was a little crazy to garden even late into the night but Iwas determined to turn my life around just like that patch od dirt. 5 years later my garden patch is blooming just like my life.

Hoover Boo October 17, 2011, 2:15 pm

It’s wonderful that you have the sensitivity to try to help the lady going through that terrible time via your work in her garden. Thought-provoking and poignant post.

Love my Lawnmower October 17, 2011, 7:20 pm

That is so right. They may just be plants, but it does seem like you sometimes get a glimpse into a person’s life by looking into their garden.

Cathy October 18, 2011, 7:31 am

Rebecca, your ability to hone in on the abilities of a woman with with MS and then to design a garden that enabled her to garner as much enjoyment as possible despite her limitations is not just amazing, it’s pretty unique among garden designers. In my experience, the focus is generally on the aesthetic, what it looks like, rather than how the garden owner will experience the garden physically. Fran commented on your sensitivity, and indeed, it sets you apart from most of your peers.

Rebecca Sweet October 18, 2011, 11:07 pm

Dolores – thank you for sharing your story. It seems so many of us who have gone through painful situations have found solace with our hands in the dirt. Sometimes gently planting, sometimes furiously digging away….

Rebecca Sweet October 18, 2011, 11:09 pm

Thank you Cheryl, Jenny, Sheila, Hoover Boo & Love my Lawnmower – I appreciate all of your kind words and you taking the time to leave a comment! May your gardens and hearts flourish! :)

Lisa October 21, 2011, 10:09 am

Another divorce here. I think being able to create a new garden is part of reinventing yourself again. My new garden in my new home is more an extension of me now. It is very different from my previous gardens, and I like that. It shows my growth as a gardener as well as my growth as a strong independent person. My interests over the years have changed, and my current garden is lower maintenance, but still full of plant geek specimens. I also think it is an inspiration to some people, “look what she did with that blank front yard”. I get a lot of comments, since my street is a popular walking route for people.

Rebecca Sweet October 23, 2011, 8:31 pm

Good for you, Lisa! I find my garden is very different now than it was years ago. I take tons of photos of my garden and periodically look at them, sort of like a family album, and it’s always amazing to see the changes. Most of the time I think “I planted THAT?” (similar to “I wore THAT” in dated photos). Either way, it’s so fun and so good for you mentally as well as physically. I’m glad your garden reflects who you are today!

greg October 23, 2011, 9:06 pm

I hated the smell of tomatoes as a kid. My old man would make me work in the garden. Now as an adult, I love the smell. It brings me back to the days of only worrying about how to get out of the gardening so I can get back to video games. Those were the days. Great blog!

Rebecca Sweet October 25, 2011, 9:44 am

Ha! Those were the days, right Greg? Very funny….

Christina Salwitz October 25, 2011, 11:05 pm

Rebecca,
This was a lovely sentiment. I feel fortunate to be able to have a glimpse into such a personal moment. Thank you. :-)