Skip to main content

De-Stress through Gardening

(In this post, guest blogger Patience Meliora, a teacher and true citizen of the world, tells of her early introductions to nature and the life-long calming effects she's found, and discusses how she finds relaxation and solace within her gardens at home in Texas.)

Memories of Maine in the Summer

When I was a little girl, my mom and her best friend (our neighbor, Shari,) would send all the kids outside on summer days to thin the carrots. We were taught at a very young age how to thin carrots, and lettuce, and basil plants. We would sit for what felt like forever, but which most likely was about 15 minutes. I remember looking down at rows of tiny, fern-like plants in perfect lines in the dirt, figuring out which ones to pluck, and which ones to leave alone. 

During those same years, we would be wicked children and steal Shari’s lavender flowers and run up into the woods to our fort, which we had built out of scrap wood and plastic sheeting. We covered it with pine boughs for camouflage, and built a lookout up in a tree. Erica and I decided that it smelled terrible, due to the combination of Maine rain and the plastic sheeting, and we would make air freshener by smashing the lavender flowers in an old saucer on the floor of the fort. I remember desperately wanting to live up there, thinking it was a place in which all four of us could finally be free, but never having the guts to do so. 

When we were kids, in Maine, in the summer, the only time of the year when it is warm-ish in Maine, we were sent out of the house after breakfast and asked to only come back for dinner. We were not allowed to come into the house during the day, as the moms were busy making bread and jam and, probably, watching some television. In those days, we climbed trees, made canoes and kayaks into playgrounds, and took said canoes and kayaks out into the ocean, always wearing life jackets and staying close to shore, because even we knew that the ocean, given a chance, will kill you with its cold temperatures and hidden currents. We knew that each year people died in the ocean for failing to understand its power. If you respected the ocean, however, and stayed close to shore, you could scoot along the ironstone rocks over to the MDI Biological Laboratory and open up the fish cages on the docks, gazing down at the tiny sharks and horseshoe crabs, sea urchins and hundreds of starfish. We would gaze down at these creatures for as long as we could until we were spotted and chased back into the canoe by wary, and kid-weary, graduate students. 

Developing a Green Thumb


These stories, I hope, provide the background for why, even as I now live in Texas, that I interact with and build my garden each and every day. I started gardening in the early 2000s when I worked at Whole Foods and would bring home dying plants from the 5 cent shelf. I lived in an old house in the French Place neighborhood, just east of Hyde Park, that had a beautiful front yard just perfect for a first garden. I remember the neighborhood cats would always mess with my plants, and at the time, I did not yet understand the interesting role of a housecat in the garden. (Hint: they think you made it for them). My first real garden was in the Hudson Valley of New York in 2006, when I somehow ended up living in Croton-on-Hudson and spent a few days before I had a job digging out a 30-by-10 foot space in the sun at the top of a hill for a garden. I remember digging and scraping, gazing down at the Croton River, with the Hudson River beyond, and a giant tree at the river’s edge in which lived baby eagles. It was glorious. The rest of the property was consumed by Kudzu, which, if you have never seen, you should Google. There were two rose bushes, which I hacked down to nubs in early March, and then thought I had killed, only to watch them leap into action come April; they exploded with blossoms. In the garden, I planted all the basics and watched my first corn crop grow sky-high, trapping a family of woodchucks one at a time, and releasing them in the park across the river. 

Today's Garden - Magic, Wonderment, and Reflection

Today, my garden is bigger than ever. My husband and I bought a 5-acre parcel with an old house on it about 3 years ago, and we steadily carve it, sculpt it, hack away at it with each passing week. When we bought the place, the house was shrouded on three sides by overgrown hackberry and yaupon trees, and you couldn’t even see the giant brick barns. Most of the property was also overgrown with hackberry, but now, there are trails through 1.5 acres of it. We discovered a giant, old, rambling post oak that was buttressed to the point of being choked by hackberry and mesquite. We chopped those down, cleared the site, and got married underneath it. This year, it roared back into beauteous growth and is covered with healthy, green leaves. 

What is the magic of gardening? Is it the soil itself, the rhythm and ritual of planting seeds and transplanting plants from one pot to another? Is it the mystery of spring when plants, hidden for months, peep out of the ground and then, seemingly in an instant, are three feet high and rising toward an ever stronger sun? Is it planting tomato plants and then noticing the baby, green tomatoes hanging on to every stem? Is it the sound of the wind, and the songs of birds, and the whisper of shifting branches? Is it wild thunderstorms that shake the house but don’t rattle the tiniest of seedlings, somehow holding on to their spot of the good earth? It is all these things, and more. It is planting wildflower seeds, afraid that none will sprout because they are notoriously finicky, and then having 5 appear! It is the first return of hummingbirds and listening to them fight over the feeder, and watching their ruby-throated gem-quality magic feeding on the geraniums by the kitchen window. It is the butterflies feeding on sap, and your puppy chasing them on the wind. It is the orchard, once dormant and cold, unfurling with green leaves, and the trees growing taller each day. 

I say to myself each year that I must spend 20 minutes a day in the garden, and I usually make that happen. Sometimes I plant, sometimes I weed, and sometimes I just wander. On especially lovely days, I just listen to the birds and the bees and the trees. So many trees. When I was a little girl in Maine, we used to listen to the locust trees along the driveway creak in the wind, and were always afraid they would crash down! And they never did; they bent, but never broke, not yet, anyway. 

There are so many lessons in gardening and being out of doors. Those lessons are patience and calm, tolerance, beauty, an appreciation of color, and soft sounds. Nothing beats the sound of wind running through grasses that are waist-high, or the feeling of the sun on your shoulders or face on a summer day, or the cool crisp chill on your shins in the mornings of spring. I check my bees each morning, taking them food, and telling them of the weather. Sometimes, on those mornings, it is yet still cool, crisp, almost cold as the dew touches my feet. 

If I could recommend gardening, and I do, to everyone, I would say remember the first line of “Desiderata” - “GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”. All the answers are there; in this world of ours, when we all are able to move so fast, it is a wonderful thing to do something intentionally that is so slow, so colorful, so practical, so beautiful, so calming. I hope you have a wonderful day in your garden.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Teaching with Themes in the Middle School ELA Classroom

As you know, I teach Middle School ELA. Here's a couple things about my teaching styles that you won't know about me unless you work with me. 
First; I hate being told what I have to teach. Absolutely HATE it! Give me the standards you want my kids to master, and give me the dates you need checkpoints in by (ok, local and district assessments), but don't tell me what materials I have to use, or worse, what materials I CANNOT use! Now, don't misunderstand. I will be happy to plan with my team, and use the same materials as they, but don't limit us or expect us to present it the same way. We are professional, individual, teachers - so let us teach!
The other thing I hate, although not nearly as much, is the mandatory use of a textbook. I feel that it limits choice, usually, and the selections are usually ones that the students don't like. Except Edgar Allen Poe, Langston Hughes, and a VERY few others.
Fortunately, I am blessed, and I know it. My administration team …

Becoming a Teacher-Author Entrepreneur Parts 1 and 2

Why become a Teacher-Author Entrepreneur?
Have you ever worked with one of those teachers who can quickly create the most awesome lesson plans in a 40 minute period, and you just know that your kids are going to love doing this amazing thing, and you are exhausted trying to keep up with the creation process just from watching? And these same amazing people wonder why everyone else spends HOURS of personal time creating lessons at home. Yeah. They are irritating, and fantastic, and always giving. And I am NOT one of them. It takes me HOURS to put together a great lesson or even the lesson plan. I used to think of those as invested - but lost- hours, because I only had to plan it once, and then I would have a hard copy for perpetuity. But I would never get the time back, and we don't get paid extra for working in the evenings, weekends, or during our summer (is he REALLY going to say it?) vacations, hence the "lost" factor. If you also are not genetically modified to create…

How Giveaways Build a Business - A Guest Posting by Cortney Gaynes

A Note from Matthew:This post was penned by teacher-author entrepreneur Cortney Gaynes. Cortney's is an amazing story of entrepreneurial growth and success! She first came to my attention by way of our mutual friend and business partner, Gregg Williams, co-founder and CEO of Amped Up Learning. Gregg kept talking to us about the phenomenal success Cortney was having with her store on AUL, TeacherSorce. (Not a typo this time! Its a PUN!)  I had to learn more, so I reached out to her. I asked her if she has a blog, and she said no, she has Palmer, her nine month old daughter, instead! I expected her success to be all social media based, which I am not the best at. According to Cortney, she places the credit on adaptability, building a lemonade stand when the world was handed a bunch of lemons in the form of Covid-19, and - at the heart of it - giveaways. Let me allow her to explain. Cortney's Biography
My name is Cortney Gaynes, and I am a third grade teacher from the suburbs of Ch…