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Channeling Stress and Finding Relaxation in a Garden

by Josh Zimmer 


When I was a kid, I lived across the street from one of my best friends. He came from out of town, and had a difficult time adjusting to life in the tighter confines of our suburban neighborhood after being surrounded by vast woods that seemed to offer no end to a child’s imagination. Much to his mother’s chagrin, mud and poison ivy were constant companions. But it didn’t take long to observe that it wasn’t just him. Their entire family was earthier than mine.  

They always seemed to be working in the yard. Unlike my unit, they got their hands dirty, and one of the Martin’s earliest project was a large vegetable garden. Specifically, there was the main rectangular section in the back, along with small patches everywhere else for blueberries, strawberries and rhubarb.  

Like everything else Mr. and Mrs. Martin did, they inspired confidence in their talent for actualizing any home project they put their minds too. And the garden thrived. Every season of each year, they either ate fresh from the earth or complimented their meals with homegrown edibles that Mrs. Martin had canned for future need. She was a farm girl from Ohio and always struck me as the most resourceful person I’d ever met.  

Occasionally, I’d benefit from the gifts of sour rhubarb and unbelievably fresh berries that were my reward for watching their bushes during vacations. Mostly though, whatever they grew was for the family––the ultimate expression of hard-earned, joyous practicality. I don’t know if the Martins ever viewed their garden as a source of natural relaxation.  

To me and my store-bought mentality, it seemed more like hard work than pleasure. But perhaps that garden did offer moments of bliss which is what I’ve experienced since planting my own home garden several years ago.  

It’s given me a different kind of relaxation than what most people normally associate with lowering the stress needle. I practice Qi Gong, a beneficial meditative practice, and take time to appreciate my natural surroundings. Gardening, however, is about goals and creativity. And when there’s nothing left to do but water the plants and pick from a bevy of lettuces, peppers, radishes and tomatoes, therein lies the bliss.  

Most of us understand how uninitiated or unfinished projects cause mental and spiritual blocks, That, in turn, breeds stress and anxiety. What we don’t always appreciate are the benefits of untapping huge stores of energy and satisfaction by embracing those challenges.  

In my case, my challenge was creating my first garden. Once the idea took root, a little research made the project seem less far-fetched. I decided on making my own earth boxes––another do-it-yourself statement––bought the potting soil, fertilizer and picked out every kind of vegetable that seemed amenable to fall planting and winter harvesting. 

There would definitely be some waste. But I forged ahead, nervous that in six to eight weeks, it would either represent a waste of time or a worthwhile stab at greater self-sufficiency. If the venture was successful, I’d have more fresh, organic food. There could even be enough to share. I might feel more attuned to nature as well 

The project expressed a growing ethos about modern life which separates most Americans from the land. That’s a spiritual loss. Politically, the less we can grow by ourselves, the more vulnerable we are to manipulation by the corporations and governmental entities controlling our food supply. My four garden beds––78-square-feet total––were just a drop in the bucket, but if everyone could grow vegetables, like people did with their World War II-era Victory Gardens, then we’d have a healthier food supply. This thought fueled my fire even more.  

Eventually, plants started to grow––first radishes, then lettuce and kale. There were some early failures like with the spinach and cauliflower. The carrots were forgettable. But later came broccoli and tomatoes that tasted better than anything found in the store.  

Several years into gardening, I plant less but reap more. It’s just the natural flow of nature. With the right effort, you get better over time. Who wouldn’t express the same sentiment about writing, painting, playing a musical instrument or any other creative desire that’s gone unfulfilled? The reward––relaxation––is waiting for when it’s time to paint a sunset, play a favorite tune on the piano or pick lunch out of a garden bed in the front yard. And many times, while tending this plants, I’ll think about the Martins.  

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