Digging in the dirt has the ability to be a gateway to your soul. It can open you up to possibilities, unleash your imagination and playfulness, enable you to take risks and trust your instincts, and help you develop a healthy level of self-confidence.
However, people in the United States, where I live, tend to view gardening as a hobby. A “hobby” is defined by Dictionary.com as “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.” It’s true that for most of us who spend time planting and digging, it is a hobby and not a professional job. Yet, I’ve always found that description odd and superficial because, as many folks who get their hands in the dirt intrinsically know, gardening is a much deeper, richer experience than the word “hobby” makes it seem. It’s not just an activity for pleasure or relaxation, but a life-altering need that our forefathers knew all too well.
Years ago, when I would take strolls in my garden to see what was happening, I began to notice my inner voice actually talking to plants. I heard myself gushing over climbing roses in full bloom with phrases like “Oh my goodness, you’re absolutely gorgeous. What a jewel you are!” Or when I saw a plant that looked sickly, I would bend over, inspecting what was wrong, gently touching its leaves and saying “Poor baby. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”
The experience of gardening is about cultivating relationships. When you take a plant out of its container, prepare a hole for planting, and then nestle it into its new home, you’re developing a bond with another living thing. As you become more familiar with your plants and garden, you may begin to sense and acknowledge deep feelings for the rest of the living things that surround you, too. Not only will you be speaking to the plants, but to the birds, bees, frogs and other creatures that call your garden home.
Over time, this type of communication became a natural part of my daily routine. When I first became aware that I was communicating with these entities, I perceived myself as the caretaker of these lovely things. I noticed that when I cajoled a plant and gave it a bit of extra attention, it often responded positively. It felt wonderful to tend to living things and watch them grow effortlessly and magically, most of the time.
Over a 20-year period, my garden matured and trees that I’d bought when my children were infants grew along with them. A fir tree kept pace with my son, and by the time that both of them had reached 20 years old, they’d matured beyond anything I could’ve imagined.
My non-gardening friends used to shake their heads and comment on the amount of time I spent working in my garden. They asked me why I didn’t bring someone in to help me with it.
What these friends didn’t realize was that although it may have looked as if I was the caretaker, the relationship between myself and my garden was, in fact, a reciprocal one. When I was going through difficult times, I found solace within it. My quiet, green friends were always there for me—without saying a word, they let my tears fall onto their leaves. On the other hand, when I was merry with the rapture of being alive, and nestled my nose up close to take in the intoxicating citrus scent of my coral climbing rosebush, she never pushed me away.
I’ll never forget visiting my home for the last time after I sold it. I walked through every room, stood still for a moment, and gave thanks for all of the living that had taken place there. As I shut the door, I felt a sense of closure. Without my furniture and my family, my home had become just a house.
When I walked through the arbour into the back garden, though, all of my composure melted away. Tears began flowing when I said goodbye to the first rosebush that I’d bought, a carmine-red velvet one that had come from a grocery store twenty-some years ago, and had grown to cover the entire back wall. Every few moments, I’d stop and cradle some flowers or plants in my hands and bid them adieu. Between muffled sobs, I literally heard my inner voice telling some of the hardier plants to watch out for the other ones, just as I might’ve told my older son to take of his younger sister when I went out for the evening.
Since leaving that garden, time has passed and I’ve now created a new garden. It hasn’t taken the place of my old one, but my new urban rooftop garden certainly holds a special place in my heart as well. After all, why shouldn’t it? As is the case in any thriving, healthy relationship, I tend to it and it tends to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Fran Sorin is an author, creativity and gardening expert, and deep ecologist. Her recently published book, the updated 10th Anniversary Edition of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening has been recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil as a “profound and inspiring book.” At www.fransorin.com, you can read articles on creativity, spirituality, and gardening, and sign up to receive Fran’s FREE 38 Creative Tips to Break The Habits That Prevent You From Leading A Richer Life.