You never know where the idea for a column comes from! I was minding my own business buying coffee beans at one of my favourite coffee shops, the Equator Coffee Shop in Almonte, when one of the welcoming baristas hit me with an existential gardening question. She had been one of the participants at the recent workshop on fruit trees and was struck by Ed Lawrence’s comment about establishing control in the garden. She is attracted to a somewhat wilder, more natural garden along the lines of an English country garden.
However the more we discussed it, we realized that the essence of gardening is really our desire to “shape unruly nature”. Even that somewhat-wild-appearing Country Garden requires a lot of work – weeding, dividing perennials, etc, etc
What is your gardening philosophy? How much ‘wild’ can you live with?
Gardening as therapy
As I am developing plans for this coming gardening season I was reflecting on the role of gardening in my life. In many ways it has always been a constant, helping me through periods of major illness, relationship upheavals, and the everyday stresses of family and career. Putting my hands in the soil, planting and nurturing a seed or a young plant, engaging the senses of touch, smell and vision have always put me ‘in the moment’.
Not surprisingly, these benefits of gardening have been observed by others. A quick check with Dr. Google revealed the existence of the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association. Their definition follows:
Horticultural Therapy (HT) is a formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities, and the garden landscape to promote well-being for its participants. HT is goal oriented with defined outcomes and assessment procedures. Research indicates that HT is proven to be beneficial in a wide variety of healthcare, residential, school, and rehabilitative settings.
They also observe that:
In Canada, horticultural therapy has been used increasingly as an evidence-based practice over the past sixty years. Care of hospitalized war veterans after World War II greatly expanded the use of gardening and horticultural activities in structured, rehabilitative programs. Now a discipline taught and practiced throughout the world, HT is used in a diversity of settings and cultures.
Back in October I wrote about the gardening program at Country Haven, an 82-bed Long Term Care Home on Country Street in Almonte. The heart of the program is the secure garden courtyard which residents can freely enter from the building. It is fully fenced and there is no fear of residents wandering off. Last October I saw appealing seating areas, shade trees and boxes spilling over with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and many other vegetables. The staff is acutely aware of the rural and small-town background of their residents and that the preponderance of them have been involved in gardening throughout their lives. They count gardening as one of their best programs with its focus on getting residents outdoors and in touch with nature; a program that I believe is truly therapeutic.