Cindy DeCarolis

How Does Your Garden Grow?

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.”

– Alfred Austin, English Poet

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

I admire gardeners because gardening is a skill that I wish I possessed. I love looking at gardens and I love having fresh flowers in the house. Many of my friends (Juliet, Marie, Maya, Melissa) are talented gardeners and have beautiful yards. They know what needs to be done and they do the work. My biggest problem is that I don’t know where to start. The whole process is overwhelming to me.

The extent of my gardening has been our annual Memorial Day weekend trip to plant flowers on the graves of my family members buried in the Watertown and Clayton cemeteries. When we get home, I plant any extra flowers in pots and put them in the yard.

We live in a house that is close to 200 years old. At some point, somebody planted a garden along the side of the house that still blooms. It looks overgrown and a little bit wild, but flowers still appear throughout the summer.

When we moved in, there were some bushes in a small bed in front of the house. They were in rough shape, so a couple of years ago I asked Louis to rip them out. I had the intention of planting a flower garden in the space. Of course, not knowing what to do I didn’t do anything.

This spring Louis said he wanted to plant tomatoes there. So, I was forced to act. I saw some landscaping around Starbucks on Route 96 in Victor that was just lavender – tall purple flowers in groups. It looked so simple and beautiful that I decided that was what I would do this year. Just plant some lavender and plant some begonias along the edge of the bed.

Off we went to Wayside Garden Center to buy some lavender plants. Big decision – what type of lavender to buy. I chose Provence Lavender because it is tolerant of poor soil, loves heat, and can withstand humidity. The employee I talked with at Wayside said that the plants would grow to be about 1 ½ feet wide and would flower.

I planted the lavender, planted begonias around the edge, and potted the remaining begonias. I watered the garden faithfully on dry days and waited for the lavender to grow. (Here’s a fun little side note, I got poison ivy when I was digging, but that’s another story.)

After a few weeks, I began to think that I had done something wrong because the lavender hadn’t grown yet. Then I talked to the lavender farmers at the Fairport Farmers Market. They told me that the lavender will grow to the size I was told, but it takes a year or two! They also told me that now that the lavender is planted, I can basically ignore it – making it the ideal plant for me!

Louis has been the gardener in our family. I think he really wants to be a farmer. Every year he plants vegetables in raised boxes behind the garage. He experiments with methods that he reads about in Mother Earth News. Not all of his attempts at different vegetables work, but I will say, consistently his tomatoes do really well every year.

At Wayside Garden Center I noticed a sign that said Gardening is Horticulture Therapy. The benefits of working in the garden on individuals with mental illness was first documented in the 19th century by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and “The Father of American Psychiatry”.

Today, the American Horticultural Therapy Association defines the practice as “the engagement of a client in horticultural activities facilitated by a trained therapist to achieve specific and documented treatment goals.” Certified Horticultural Therapists treat a wide variety of clients, including veterans suffering from PTSD and elderly with dementia.

There are also physical benefits to gardening. According to Robert Hutchins, M.D. M.P.H., of Chapel Hill Internal Medicine and Carolina Clinic, the health benefits of gardening include:

• Improving heart health due to the cardiovascular workout provided by manual labor.
• Keeping your hands and fingers strong from digging, planting, and pulling weeds.
• Being in the sun boosts Vitamin D levels.
• Growing your own food provides the ultimate farm to table experience.
• Exposing children to dirt can strengthen their immune systems.

Encouraged that I can just relax and let my lavender do its thing, I plan to keep cultivating my little garden. My next adventure – planting tulip bulbs in the fall.

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