GOLDEN, Colo. — And so, to the garden I go.
I know it’s likely too early to plant in the high country, but I can’t go volunteer at my beloved school greenhouse because all school facilities are closed (I wish I could at least plant a cover crop in all the beds there before this period of fallow!). So I’m pretending that it’s officially 4-6 weeks before average last frost in the high country of Colorado, and I planted those parsnip, sugar snap pea, spinach, leek, and rutabaga seeds in the ground. Maybe last frost will be early this year. Or maybe the seedlings will all freeze. Or maybe they’ll find enough insulation from the surrounding leaf mulch to grow as they shelter in place. In the face of the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, my gamble to plant seeds early barely registers as a risk. All I know is that planting those seeds brought me purpose, familiarity, and hope – highly coveted aspirations in these times.
My impulse to be in the garden right now is well-supported by research on mental wellness. As hundreds of scientific papers (and countless hours of experience) have demonstrated, gardens are a space where we can practice acceptance, accelerate healing, develop a mindset for growth and learning, reduce stress and connect with our world. And in the midst of these times, prioritizing mental wellness is absolutely critical.
After all, these times are uncertain, if not devastating, for so many of us. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m a firm believer in resilience (I just planted seeds in March in the high country of Colorado after all). But it’s important for us to acknowledge the grief we rightfully harbor. Grief for lost livelihoods and a sense of routine if not security. For the well-being of those who were already so isolated by age, ability, or mental illness. For those who do still have jobs, but no childcare, and are now working before the kids wake up, and during naps, and after they go to sleep. For those who ‘stay at home’ with an abusive partner or family member. For those most valuable essential employees shouldering Atlas’s load to keep the ship steady. For the overburdened community leaders and organizations who are striving day in and day out to meet community needs. For the medical professionals putting their commitment to community above their own comfort and safety. For those near and far that are navigating this difficult time together.
Either way, I watch as he spies the first bee of the season, caked in pollen from our crocuses that bloomed not a day before. And right next to it, a moth out in the full sun of day, eagerly drinking the nectar of a tiny iris. My son reaches his tiny forefinger out to the moth and very gently (more gently than I thought a two year old capable of), he prods it and watches it bounce to the next bloom. He whips his face to me beaming as bright as the blue sky sun. A couple feet away we notice a pollinating fly, bouncing from crocus to crocus. The bounty of life supported by our meager handful or early springtime blooms is inspiring, and a welcome reminder of the gritty resilience we embody as creatures of nature.And so, to the garden I go. My toddler puts on his bright yellow rain boots, and I show him how to plant seeds. He’s two years old, a “big kid,” and I can already see that he has inherited the green thumb that has passed through my family for generations. He doesn’t know it yet, and I didn’t until just recently, but we’re the product of generations of farmers and orchardists. It makes sense now that even though I grew up in the heart of an urban area, that I became an arborist and a devout gardener; like my mother, like my grandfather, and his before, and on and on. Or maybe, my son’s green thumb is the result of me hauling him with me to volunteer at community gardens since before he could talk.
This pandemic is a stark reminder that, as successful a species as we are, we are still governed by our naturalness. And this unpredictable season of late winter/early spring further drives the lesson home. This is our early spring freeze. But these days of cold and isolation are spliced with days of warmth and awakening. In reaction to dire news, there are instantaneously so many people aching to act, to help – to be growers of food, of community, of family, even from within the confines of our homes. Like springtime buds aching for the chance to unfurl.
This is our calling. And so, to the garden we go.This instinct is our natural resilience. And perhaps you, like me, find deep connection with it while in the garden with dirt under your fingernails, or a pair of pruning shears in your too-often-washed hands. So I encourage you to go to the garden. As others have highlighted in recent posts including The Gift of Gardening, The Basics of Fruit Tree Pruning, and Gardening for the Home Team, there are a multitude of valuable springtime gardening activities that are ideal for this time of year. Sow cool season vegetable seeds in the ground. Transplant fruit trees, shade trees, and shrubs while they still wait in dormancy. Grow starts for yourself, your neighbors, and for the community gardens that will be playing catch up when this freeze thaws.
Gillihan. 2019. 10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/think-act-be/201906/10-mental-health-benefits-gardening
Poplett. 2018. Horticultural Healing: Plants and Mental Health. https://www.aau.edu/research-scholarship/featured-research-topics/horticultural-healing-plants-and-mental-health
Wood et al. 2016. A case–control study of the health and well-being benefits of allotment gardening. https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/38/3/e336/2239844
Van Lier et al. 2016. Home Gardening and the Health and Well-Being of Adolescents. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1524839916673606?journalCode=hppa
— Emily Jack-Scott, Colorado Master Gardener
For more news from Colorado, click here.