Garden Therapy

All of our physical nourishment depends on the plant world.  Those of us who eat meat, poultry, and fish still depend on the plant world, because plants exist at the beginning of the food chain for all of those creatures.

Plants are autotrophs – magical creatures able to produce their own nourishment.  Hundreds of millions of years ago (long before humans walked the earth), plants developed a process called photosynthesis, combining the energy of the sun, carbon dioxide, and water to produce food.  Not only does photosynthes is create nourishment for plants to grow, but it also produces oxygen, vital for all breathing life on earth.

In his book, Plant Spirit Medicine, Eliot Cowan writes:

Might it not be also worthwhile to consider our relationship to plants?  The most striking thing about this relationship is that we need them, but they don’t need us.  We humans are utterly dependent on plants to cover all our needs:  fuel, shelter, clothing, medicine, the petrochemical cornucopia, and of course, food.

Cowan goes on to describe how plants have given us everything we’ve asked, yet in return we have managed to offer plants nothing but suffering, destruction, and extinction.  He asks, “What makes plants so generous?  What makes us (humans) so brutal?”

While plants exist in unity with other life, we modernized humans have become so self-absorbed and self-important, that we no longer feel a oneness with the plant world, and that lack of connection has created disrespect for plant life that has been detrimental to plants, and to ourselves.

When I was a young child, my mother would often take me and my siblings on the train from Kansas City, Missouri, to Chanute, Kansas – about 150 miles southwest.  We traveled in the summer to her family’s old home.  Nobody lived there year-round anymore, so when we arrived in the warm, humid evening, crammed into an old taxi driven from the train station, my mother would unlock the front door, turn on the lights and get the water running to wake up the house.

My most enchanting memories of that time have to do with plants.  I remember the huge honeysuckle vine that grew by the back steps of the house.  We would pick the flowers and pull the middle stamen out through the bottom of the flower until a drop of nectar appeared – then lick it up just like a bee.  Spearmint grew by the back of the house, and sweet peas too.  Our neighbor, Virginia Burns, grew a tomato garden beside her house, and planted marigolds in her window boxes.  I remember picking the spent, dried marigold flowers, carefully pulling them apart, and discovering, to my amazement, that each dried flower held dozens of flat, long marigold seeds.

What are your childhood memories of plants?  What are your recent experiences?  Besides food, clothing and shelter, plants offer us beauty and serenity.  A good way to get back into a relationship with plants is to grow them.  It doesn’t matter if you grow them for food, for shade in your yard, or for beauty and decoration in your home – just take the time to learn how to nurture a plant.  Even one plant is garden therapy.

In 2005, my father gave me the gift of an orchid on Mother’s Day.  Although he died in November 2008, the orchid lives on and has bloomed many times over.  Not only that, it has grown baby orchids that will eventually bloom themselves.  Many friends and family have remarked on the size and beauty of this plant.  All I can say is that I give it love, and it reminds me of my father’s spirit – in this way, both plant and person benefit.

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