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Garden Photo of the Day

Gardening in a Crisis

Using gardens to help deal with difficult times

Today Kat Kinch is sharing some thoughts on gardening in a difficult time.

I’m writing from Ontario, Canada, where the public health control measures to slow the spread of coronavirus are being implemented in leaps and bounds. Life was normal just a few days ago: work went on regularly, meetings happened, social plans unfolded as expected. In just a few days, everything changed. Schools were shut. Events were cancelled en masse, including Canada Blooms in Toronto and our local maple syrup festival. Businesses are shuttering and reducing hours. It’s a radical change and hopefully one that can lessen the impact of this global situation here at home and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

A few weeks ago, I started a new Instagram account dedicated solely to gardening (@smalltowngardening) and quickly began following a group of British landscape designers that I’ve been admiring in magazines and online. From there I discovered a wide network of working professionals, trainees, and wonderful home gardeners not just in the UK but in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Canada, and the United States. They post beautiful photographs and comment on each other’s work in their gardens. I am constantly amazed and appreciative of these creative, imaginative, and dirty-nailed people, and that I have the opportunity to see how they make really great gardens.

As with every part of social media, coronavirus has crept in. But there is something different going on in the gardening social network than what is happening in the anxiety-stoked and informational posts in my regular newsfeeds. The gardeners have something to offer: really helpful advice about activities you can do safely when you are living in isolation. You can plant seeds (and mail ordering is still a thing among gardeners). You can plan a garden, whether it’s in the actual ground right where you live, on a balcony or a patio, or on a windowsill. You can figure out how to prune that mystery shrub. You can breathe fresh air and dig in the dirt (even in my case where some of it is still frozen—there is always some task to do in a garden). You can wave to your neighbors and holler a hello even if you shouldn’t greet them as you normally would.

The gardeners are also a unique bunch. Many of them may have taken to this passion/calling because of the anxieties of the world and the demonstrable beneficial impacts of gardening on mental health. They garden because it is good for them and makes something they can share with others, and it makes them feel good too. And I think, because of this aptitude or empathy for what we are all managing right now, their messages have over and over been both caring and wise. They post rainbows and flowers and the calm refuge of private garden spaces, but it isn’t saccharine—their photographs come with thoughtful words and reflection on living through a worsening situation. Jimi Blake of Hunting Brook Gardens in Ireland posted a story the other day about how much better he felt after a few hours spent in the garden. His advice was to “do the good jobs”; don’t head outside for that task you dread, but truly do the things you like to do in the garden. I like edging best of all; I like how the soil crunches and how new shapes develop in the yard, and I like that I’m changing grass into something entirely different and diverse. So I listened to Jimi and went outside to discover that the soil was actually thawed in the sunny part of my yard and I could edge away contentedly for the afternoon. It was wonderful, and it helped me have a head full of fresh air and some real exercise before the next wave of troubling news rolled in.

Many of us, for some period of time that can’t yet be known, are finding that our usual occupations will be on pause or vastly reduced while we weather the crisis. Gardeners already know that down time isn’t lost time. It can also be growth time.

SedumSedum in rockery: new brilliantly colored growth in my neighbor’s rock garden, emerging in the early spring.

BatboxesJust a couple of weeks ago, I was able to attend a local workshop to learn how to build a bat box. Events like that are canceled now.

ColumbineColumbine (Aquilegia) from last year’s garden.

hugelkultur bermAn early garden task during a difficult weekend—my attempt at a hugelkultur berm, with logs facing the garden and the sod I’m digging up forming a wall behind. Later this spring I will sow the earthen part with wildflowers.

Parkwood EstateA scene from a greenhouse at Parkwood National Historical Site before social distancing kicked in.

Black oak savannaWe can still visit many of our natural spaces (here, a black oak savanna), and we should. It helps.

 

Have a garden you’d like to share?

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To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.

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Comments

  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 03/24/2020

    Thank you for sharing. We certainly do live in troubling times & as we look at green growing things (and even some still brown) hopefully our souls will be soothed.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      I agree - take care.

  2. Garden1953 03/24/2020

    Thank you for your wonderful post. We are all pretty much self quarantined except grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations. All events in the near future have been canceled or postponed. I feel so very blessed to have wonderful gardens to spend time in, although Thursday's 12" of snow have kept me more inside than out. It is melting some each day and I have a bookshelf of wonderful gardening books to enjoy. I wish everyone good health and safety.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      We have just shifted to restrictions that sound like yours. And sadly a lot of crowding in parks in the province are resulting in closures there too. I’m trying to keep positive and have a stack of books too. All the best.

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 03/24/2020

    I really appreciated your morning musing, Kat. I think that we avid (or just casually interested) gardeners are particularly blessed during these challenging times. Gardeners are usually comfortable with their own company while doing their their tasks. We celebrate and feel joyful about the almost invisible stirring back to life of a plant breaking dormancy. Our busy societies don't usually have a period of forced dormancy but we gardeners know that the best is yet to come when the life affirming cycle has its turn.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Thanks so much for your comment - I really appreciate it and see it the same way.

  4. User avater
    user-7007816 03/24/2020

    Thank you for reminding to celebrate nature and our gardens. I am reading "The Forest Unseen--A year's Watch in Nature" where the author examines one square meter of woodland for a year. It is a reminder to truly explore and enjoy what's going on around us.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      That sounds like a great book. I have Dan Pearson’s Natural Selection to read which follows a year in his garden. I will look up yours!

  5. user-5117752 03/24/2020

    I'd like to echo all of the above thoughts and words. I'm in the western part of North Carolina and hunkered down as well but then, I can look out or go out to see that spring really has sprung. Almost all of the bulbs are flowering and many trees are budding. Yellow, blue, purple and white are the colors that dominate at the moment. There's joy in my garden when I think of nothing else. I feel as though I waited forever for the return of garden life and, suddenly, here it is. Thank you Kat for your beautiful thoughts and pictures. Thank you all for soothing thoughts and sharing.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      I’m really glad you liked it. I feel like gardens aren’t distraction for the gravity of it but are actually sustaining. And this will be a long haul - we will need all the positivity we can find.

  6. Maggieat11 03/24/2020

    Beautifully said. All of you. I too, am so thankful for my gardening efforts which does indeed, provide essential therapy. It is so important to have something to look forward to, and this Gardening season is no exception.
    Best wishes to you all.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Thanks so much - best wishes to you too.

  7. sandyprowse 03/24/2020

    How wonderful to be able to get out into the garden and lift off that melted-together blanket of old leaves and see greenery underneath. Now we have time to take advantage of this new-found time. Worm compost from my normal source has been cancelled so my garden in Toronto Canada will not be as splendid this year. However, Fingers crossed. Today I am putting seeds in old yogurt containers and that will be something to look forward to in this troubled time.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      I’m sure the past years’ worm compost will still have something to offer. I found about six inches of what I thin is sweet william under a leaf layer the other day. Just waiting on the rest to grow. :)

  8. User avater
    SimpleSue 03/24/2020

    Wow, usually I'm the type that likes the photos over what is written about a garden- but I really loved the things you had to say- your words were as beautiful as any photo of a garden could ever be. I appreciate the instagram link on the gardens, that was enough to make me want to sign up for an account. Thanks!

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Thanks so much for what you said here - it’s really touching and I appreciate it.

  9. alicefleurkens 03/24/2020

    My thoughts exactly. Especially now I am so glad that I love to garden and that we have a garden to work in. And when someone walked by and said how nice our flowerbeds always look I’m happy. And I want to make them great this year for all to enjoy.

    But I think about people who live in apartments with their children and hope there is some quiet place away from others where they can walk or play and enjoy some time with their family and maybe forget their worries for a little bit.
    As friends we are sharing that at least we are able to go outside and pass the time with things we that make us feel better. At our home we are also making a few glass flowers and my mind is picturing these giving joy in someones garden. Even if there is no going to the Goodwill for more supplies. The tulips are just staring to come up. (In Sweaburg,Ontario).
    Alice

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Hi Alice - we lived in an apartment for 13 years and most of my friends did too. I know even walks are being discouraged in some places so apartment-dwellers don’t take the risk of getting in the shared elevator. It must be so tough, especially when other housing choices are out of reach as they are in many urban environments.

  10. wittyone 03/24/2020

    I am so thankful for my garden during this time of enclosure. To be able to get outside, breathe fresh air and move around is truly a blessing. I'm so glad that this "stay at home" time occurred in early spring. For me, this is the best time of year since every day I can roam around the garden and find at least one new plant that has bravely pushed its way out of the ground as a response to longer days and the sun's warmth. For now this precious time is available to consider new plans for rearranging and reconfiguring beds and making lists of possible additional plants to add. We have the time to do all these things in a leisurely fashion rather than hurriedly cramming all this into little pockets of time and so can really savor all the calmness that these activities provide. We, as gardeners, are a lucky bunch.

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      I think you should write the next GPOD and call it “Savoring the Calmness”. Or “Savouring” for us Canadians.

  11. User avater
    BDOwen 03/24/2020

    Wise words, Kat- and in all the comments. A real comfort to read today. Yesterday's snow has melted, the forsythia is popping out over a month early. I'm going to put out my bird bath and enjoy watching the robins splash. Grateful to be able to dig in the dirt and start this season of gardening. Stay well, everyone!

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Enjoy your robins. I’m still refilling our bird feeders. :)

  12. Erla 03/24/2020

    What a wonderful day brightener you wrote. So inspiring and informational. I can look out my window as I write this and see the flowers bursting into bloom. Maybe the early Spring we have had was just to help us through the difficult time we are in. Bless you and everyone stay healthy. I'm going to go pull some weeds!!

    1. K0Kat 03/24/2020

      Thanks so much - I hope you stay healthy too, and have the best time getting dirty.

  13. JaneEliz 03/24/2020

    Thank you so much for expressing so beautiful what so many of us feel. I hope you will send in pictures of the berm you are building so we can see the results.
    I am so thankful to be a gardener, to have a garden to tend-especially during this challenging time. Usually I have a plant sale each spring. This year I will have plant stand, safely at the end of my driveway ,with free plants. This will be a fun project for me and a chance to meet new neighbors and share garden talk as well as plants.

  14. BTucker9675 03/25/2020

    Saturday my husband and I went to our favorite nursery - they were allowing fewer than 50 people in at a time and since it's a large space, we could maintain distance. People had their dogs with them as well. It was so lovely to wander around looking at all of the plants and making mental plans... we purchased 4 different evergreens to help add privacy around our just completed pool and also hydrangeas, camellias, lilies of the valley, hellebores and columbine for the partially shaded area between the pool and the back of the house. Spent a wonderful afternoon planting the shrubs and perennials - the trees are to be delivered tomorrow. Digging in the dirt is definitely therapeutic. Thanks for your lovely words and photos!

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