Garden Photo of the Day

Healing Gardens

Sue Lewandowski shares an inspiring story about the healing powers of her beautiful garden.

"As a child, the yard of our timeworn farmhouse beckoned me outdoors; fragrant lilacs lined the old pebbled drive and gnarly apple trees offered a climbing paradise. Weed strewn stone walls delineated the barn and out-buildings; smaller rocks outlined my mother’s garden. Oh how this “Baby Boomer” tomboy loved to sketch the flowers when I wasn’t next door playing baseball with the boys, on the tennis court, or meandering through the surrounding woods.

College began with a major in botany, but instead life’s complicated journey was thwarted by decades of chronic and severe bulimia nervosa. Creative and artistic tendencies helped when I changed my major to interior design, but I was already stumbling down the dangerous path of co-occurring addiction; ensuing alcoholism completely destroyed any dreams for the future.

The garden path, thirty years later, guided my long journey of recovery! Botany and art came full circle! Now sober 23 years and eating disorder free for 17, the garden has been a sanctuary during my husband’s multiple eyes surgeries, 7 years of graduate school while working full time as a college secretary, numerous local and federal advocacy commitments, and the founding of a fuel assistance non-profit.

Often I find myself lost in the relentless web of responsibility; today I found myself at peace in the garden!

My healing gardens are located in the small Central Massachusetts community of North Brookfield."

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Before image

Peaceful space

Shade in my garden

Fall garden 

Front driveway area

Front Maple

Another view of the front yard

Creative use of a tree stump in the garden

Summer garden after some rain

Woodlan behind the house

View Comments


  1. user-7007498 07/01/2016

    Sue: Thanks for sharing your personal story of crisis and triumph. Who can ever predict the path our lives take. What matters is how we react to things that are within and outside of our influence and control. The garden has very special powers, and can serve as a place of peacefulness and allow to reflect on the day to day stressors. It sounds like your garden has been part of your therapy.

    I love the informal design style of your garden. The plants have weaved together to form a beautiful tapestry of color and texture and form. I love the placement of the hakonechloa grasses in the photo labeled "Peaceful space".

    Fantastic garden. Kudos on your personal triumphs.

  2. frankgreenhalgh 07/01/2016

    G'day Sue from Australia - Oh the web of life! I admire your honesty, and congratulate you on your triumph. Thank you for sharing how your garden has been so critical for your life - proof of the recreational value of gardens I say! There is still an influence of that botany major in there I suspect. And let's not forget that garden - it's wonderful Sue. This is one of the best garden stories I have read on the GPOD blog. Cannot wait to read the wonderful prose of Michaele on this post (not putting any pressure on Michaele!).

    1. User avater
      meander_michaele 07/01/2016

      Sue's poignant honesty seems to have touched us all and allowed our inner best to be communicated. I felt as I read Kevin's, Jeff's and your own comments when I first logged on that you three had already so beautifully expressed everything I was feeling.

  3. jeffgoodearth 07/01/2016

    Sue, I applaud both you and your triumph and your garden. It is a beautiful testament to the healing power of nature and the earth. I love every square inch of what you have done here. Thanks you for sharing the back story and inspiration for the space you have created. It is spectacular on many levels

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 07/01/2016

    Thank you so much, Sue, for trusting us, your fellow gardeners, with the pain filled truth of your past difficulties. You have overcome some daunting challenges but, as your series of pictures show so clearly, the journey has taken you to a place that now reflects on the outside, the beauty and strength that lives within you. In the first two photos, the house without gardens looks so stark and alone. I'm sure that resonates with how you often felt as you faced your demons. But now, its hard edges are encircled and embraced with the visible proof of your creativity and strong spirit. That first picture literally sparkles with vibrancy and looks like the work of the contented with herself person that you now are.

    1. frankgreenhalgh 07/01/2016

      You haven't let me down Michaele. Another fine response!

    2. wGardens 07/02/2016

      Beautifully said!

  5. user-3565112 07/01/2016

    Your life story & gardens are absolutely inspirational. Diane,Jeff,Frank & Kevin have said it all. Thank you for this fabulous post to end the week on a high note.
    Good luck, Joe

  6. user-4691082 07/01/2016

    Dear Sue, your story is so powerful. You may never know who you may have helped by your writing. It is a message of hope, of surrender, and of gratitude. Your gardens are so beautiful! I'm sure many folks stroll down that tree lined street, and stop to take it all in. In that way, you are passing it on. May God bless you day by day and keep you from stumbling...

  7. user-7007366 07/01/2016

    I've always believed that nature heals, and along with all of your hard work, it has truly been a healing force in your life. The picture of your Fall garden would be one that would keep me going all through the winter. Thank You so much for the inspiration.

  8. eddireid 07/01/2016

    Dear Sue, I have just wept my way through your post. You have created a beautiful retreat, my own garden is My Cathedral and much of it is a tribute to a beloved soul who suffered. Gardens are full of life, beauty and Peace.
    I wish you Peace.

  9. User avater
    treasuresmom 07/01/2016

    Oh, my!!! That is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your personal story as well as your beautiful gardens.

  10. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 07/01/2016

    Your beautiful, well-tended, artful garden is only surpassed by your story of hard work, resilience and determination. Inspiring! What a treat. Thank you.

  11. MNGardenGirl 07/01/2016

    Love your story of recovery and love your gardens. Thanks for sharing.

  12. annek 07/01/2016

    Poignantly beautiful....the garden as well as your story. Natures healing powers are sometimes underestimated. Your creativity and passions shine through your design. Bravo! PS: I've studied each photo several times and although they are all beautiful, your fall garden photo keeps drawing me back. It is artistic, flowing and oh-the-colors!

  13. Cenepk10 07/01/2016

    Sue- looks like you'vecome full circle. Amazing how life works out that way. Even with the little twists & turns... We manage to be steered back on path to our destiny. Well, dear, you've certainly done a tremendous service to your particular destiny. What gorgeous, serene gardens ! I'm grateful you shared !

  14. katieerb 07/01/2016

    There is no place more restorative than a garden, this is beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  15. schatzi 07/01/2016

    It's all beautiful, but the fall shot is my favorite, for color and texture. Congratulations on your success in turning your life around - it's difficult to overcome one's demons, but what a glorious triumph when we finally do. Your garden is gorgeous and life-affirming and a marvelous, peaceful setting. Well done.

  16. NWAgardener 07/01/2016

    Sue - so many beautiful things about which to comment! I love the way you turned a potential eyesore tree stump into a artistic centerpiece. The stone walk between the driveway and the front of the house is so inviting and I love the 'Sagae' (I believe) hostas flanking either side. I also noticed the red impatiens scattered about that echo your happy red front door. With all that beauty, no wonder you are healed. I believe the hard work of gardening is as restorative as the beauty.

  17. User avater
    HelloFromMD 07/01/2016

    Hi Sue, your gardens are beautiful and show a wide range of plants that you very successfully combined. Too bad you are in Mass., would be so fun to visit each other's gardens and share plants. (Your growing conditions are similar to mine) Great idea with the container and a stump. When a diseased tree was coming down in my yard by Mead Tree Service, I suddenly realized here is a golden opportunity. So I stopped them when the trunk was 12 feet high and created a chance to plant Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight'.

  18. Sunshine111 07/01/2016

    Absolutely gorgeous Sue! Do you ever allow fellow gardeners to visit your garden? I live in Hooksett New Hampshire right off of 93. Would love to visit yours and would love to have you visit mine and have tea with me on my front porch! Let me know if you're open to this…

  19. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 07/01/2016

    Thanks for sharing your inspirational life story with us, Sue. I've always felt that gardening is great therapy and you're proof of that and also a great gardener. Your photo of the peaceful space is an area where I could spend a lot of hours but your whole garden looks serene, peaceful and well thought out. Congratulations on all of your hard work and it sounds like you are giving back in a big way, too.

  20. jagardener 07/02/2016

    Your story and garden are inspiring.

  21. suzanneyerdonlewandowski 07/12/2016

    I didn’t realize people commented on these posts; I am new to this form of social media and of course cannot figure out how to respond on an individual basis. Everyone’s words brought tears to my eyes. For so long, my self-image was one of despair, self-pity, and failure. The garden indeed heals; this you all seem to understand.

    It wasn’t until a few years later when researching for graduate school that I came across a wonderful book. Marilyn Barrett captured my recovery so splendidly. Read page xi – “Come into the garden with me. Don’t worry about not knowing the way. Your heart remembers, even if your head has forgotten……”

    To Lily, I occasionally pass Hookset on my way to Plymouth State where they have an eating disorders graduate program; I would love to see your gardens. I can be reached at [email protected]/

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