How Gardening Reshaped My Worldview
On the unexpected joys of getting my hands dirty.
I have become the sort of woman who talks to her plants -- well, sings to them, rather. Perched on my deck in Seattle, Washington are four long troughs of green and yellow summer squash, spring onions, cilantro, basil, and dill. They have enormous green leaves that seem to expand by the minute; they require lots of water and a little bit of pruning; they are needy, but not so much so that I have scolded them...yet. On the contrary, every morning I wake up and tell them good morning, and together we celebrate another day of growth.
When I rewind to just three months ago, my life was dramatically different, and most of my days were spent indoors -- think: office, bar, home, repeat. I lived in Brooklyn, New York, and certainly didn’t have the space to cultivate a garden of my own, nor the time. But there was something else much deeper that prevented me from exploring stillness -- that gift of simply being, preferably out of doors, sans distraction. And with the clarity that hindsight affords, I can see that it wasn’t just a lack of free time that stopped me from going outside. Rather, I was so consumed with my own growth, whether that meant my job, my relationship, or my social life, that I had zero interest in considering the growth of another living thing. And while I don’t look back on that time with regret, those ambitions (and subsequent self-centeredness) left little room for anything else.
That is, of course, until it all came tumbling down when the pandemic hit: no more job (I was laid off along with millions of others), and no more social gatherings (for obvious reasons). When my girlfriend got a new opportunity out west, we left New York so quickly my head spun. I remember telling her that I felt like an uprooted plant, naked and vulnerable, wholly unsure of my footing after being so sure that we would never live anywhere else.
The hardest part of leaving New York was the fear that no other city would compare. But slowly, out of necessity, my worldview expanded. The perspective shift that followed was like a breath of fresh air. And I began to consider and prioritize other things -- things outside of myself, or more blatantly put, things that did not revolve around me.
When we got to Seattle, got settled, and finally unpacked every last box, the first thing we bought at Home Depot were seeds -- and lots of them. But when it came to planting them, I put the seeds in the dirt in disbelief. How could such a tiny speck of a thing produce anything of value? Quickly I learned not to underestimate the power of water, sunshine, and time. I like to imagine that we are on parallel tracks, my plants and I. While their roots sink down into the dirt each day, my roots in this new and unfamiliar city are likewise finding good ground. It turns out that gardens make for good metaphors, and equally good mood-boosters, too.
Gardening as therapy is not a new concept. But as someone who has never had the gift of a green thumb, much less the luxury of a real yard, it feels particularly special. And being able to cultivate new life in the face of so much tragedy has had an obvious, incredibly positive impact on my own mental health and wellbeing. I’m not alone: studies show that simply being in nature has restorative effects. A daily walk in the woods (or, more likely, your nearby park) -- also known as, forest bathing -- improves the mood, while also decreasing stress levels. Not surprisingly, I’ve found this to be true for gardening as well. And while I’m still clearly a total novice, my experience (and success!) can hopefully serve as encouragement for your own prospective hobby, whether or not it involves dirt. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Clearly, gardening represents a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For some, it’s a vital stand-in for empty grocery store shelves during the pandemic; for others, it’s a lifelong passion that has proven integral to their mental health. In my own life, it has meant a daily reason to get outside, nurture (and sing to!) lots of tiny living things, and witnessing the fruit of my labor literally appear before my eyes. It’s difficult to explain why watching a squash blossom emerge is so damn rewarding, but I think it has something to do with what it symbolizes: accomplishment, growth, bounty, and, most importantly, life.
Meet the Family
Emma is a writer and editor based in the Pacific Northwest. Previously, she worked in digital media in New York City. Her work centers on narrative-driven journalism and occasional fiction that aims to highlight the queer Southern experience.