“I see fields of green
Red roses too … “– Louis Armstrong
Every muscle in my body aches. Even in a state of rest, supine in bed, I feel the pain. There is no inclination whatsoever to rise and meet the day. A slight move elicits a big wince. I’m willing to forgo coffee and brushing my teeth – its simply too much effort to get up. I’m well past being embarrassed by my admission. No, I’m not unwell. I’ve been planting bulbs. Hundreds of them. One by one because they go between already established plants and other older bulbs. Every autumn I endure this ordeal. Every year I question my sanity. And every spring I am so ridiculously ecstatic to see the explosion of bulbs lighting up the garden.
There are still more bulbs to plant but for those, I’m recruiting the help of my family. They have been given no choice. Threats, guilt trips and bribery work well. I highly recommend those measures. I’m too sore to be nice. Rest assured I’ll return to nice after the body has forgotten its present trauma.
The other fall garden chores are also well underway. Cutting back and clean up, leaf raking, pruning, lawn reseeding, getting pots of tender perennials and tropicals into the greenhouse, planting new perennials and shrubs, pruning, cleaning and putting away outdoor furniture, the list goes on. Its exhaustive and exhausting. Then why do we gardeners punish ourselves repeatedly?
Because we must. It makes us happy. Keeps us in balance. It helps us make sense of this complicated, amazing world. Creating a beautiful, productive garden is our calling. As a result, other people appreciate us for our equanimity.
In post-bulb planting repose, I’ve had time to contemplate this horticultural preoccupation. Connecting so directly with nature as one does when gardening has rewards that cannot be matched by almost any other activity. Humans need green spaces. Our survival depends on it. Its not just for our food but our general well being. Since time immemorial, cultures everywhere have promoted the benefits of working or being in nature. At some level we have understood this need. There is no argument against the compulsion we have to seek our rest and recreation outdoors. It simply is.
Bad moods are banished after a turn in the garden or a walk in the park. Learning from personal experience, I’ve often dealt with the resident teenager’s age-appropriate histrionics by slyly getting her to do garden chores like weeding and watering. Her initial complaints, loud as they are, mean nothing to me. The child that returns indoors is invariably a transformed one.
I recently had to go out of town and was put up in a ‘resort’ of sorts. This place was vast – two thousand rooms, a large conference center, a full spa facility, seventeen restaurants, multiple shops, even a ‘riverboat cruise’ in a man-made ‘river’ that covered 4.5 acres. It had gardens, waterfalls and fountains. And all of this enormous complex was completely roofed over! There were well concealed vents that blew air to simulate a breeze. I found this place terribly disorienting. I was supposed to feel like I was outside but was instead in a bizarre world indoors. Most significantly, the painstakingly created gardens lacked vitality. After all, where were the sounds and activities of the birds, bees and butterflies? Where was that distinctly earthy aroma assuring me that worms and microbes were busy at work? These gardens of living, mostly tropical plants might as well have been fake. My mind and my heart could not, would not accept this make-believe world. There was no fooling them. It was a very unsettling experience. Like a newly caged bird, I got anxious and couldn’t wait to break free.
Lately, researchers have studied the benefits of green spaces. The anecdotal has moved to the scientific. More credible that way. Several studies have concluded what gardeners already knew – there is no doubt that spending some time in nature everyday considerably improves our health – mentally, physically and emotionally.
One study found that living with green spaces has a long-lasting positive influence on people’s mental well-being. Compared to the short term boost from pay rises and promotions, the positive effect from being in nature has a sustained, long term impact. Levels of anxiety and depression were reduced. The findings appear in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology. What is seen is that even after three years, mental health is still better which is unlike many of the other things that we think will make us happy.
So coming back to my current status of muscles in agony and reluctance to move, I admit that my spirits are high, my mood is upbeat and I’m already planning future projects in the garden. I’m also harboring the fantasy that the aforementioned body parts will shed fat, get toned and move like they used to twenty years ago. Thats the other thing – gardeners are huge dreamers.