Natural Depression Relief: Gardening

Community Member

The days are growing longer, warmer, and more filled with light. Springtime has finally arrived for many of us. It is a time to reflect on growth and renewal. And what a better way to pause, reflect, and enjoy this seasonal change than by starting a garden. In the cold days of winter I would take delight in looking at seed catalogs and planning for the days when I could get outside and get my hands in the soil. It gave me joy to think about growing something of beauty or substance. In many ways gardening is more than a hobby for me. It is also a way to heal from depression.

In my mid-twenties I had a miscarriage early into my pregnancy. It was emotionally devastating. I had no clue as to the despair and sorrow I would feel after losing my baby. I didn't know how to mourn as a miscarriage is a different sort of loss. At the time I felt suicidal, blaming myself and my body for something which was beyond my control. I had a wonderful therapist at the time who helped me learn to grieve. In addition to the support from my therapist, friends and family, what helped me the most to get through that time was gardening.

We were living in a small row house in the city at the time and we had a postage stamp backyard. I am talking small, maybe the size of a large closet. The neighbors would use their small outdoor space to hang clothes, or maybe have a few flowers, or display garden gnomes or even religious statues. Our backyard was mostly ignored due to our busy schedules of graduate school and full time jobs. But after my miscarriage I looked at that empty space as a canvas to be filled in. I could no longer bear the emptiness of it.

Growing up in the inner city, I never learned anything about plants or gardening. My world was filled with chain link fences, concrete, and steel. The softness of a patch of grass, the elegance of a tree, or the fragrance of a flower could only be found in the nearby cemetery. My mother and I would have picnics there just to get a glimpse of nature.

Although I had no experience with nature or gardens I would read about such things in books. As a child I would choose books at the library about farms and people who lived off the land. I would look at the pretty pictures of pastures and farm houses with wrap-around porches and dream. I wondered what it would be like to have that freedom to run through fields or pick strawberries fresh from the garden.

Following my miscarriage my thoughts returned to these childhood visions. I felt a spiritual hunger to grow something. For the first time in my life I ordered seed catalogs. So many possibilities. But what could I grow in such a small space? Defying logic I went with my emotional desires instead. I wanted to grow everything, flowers, vegetables, even watermelon and corn. One of my friends laughed out loud when I told her that I had spent over a couple of hundred dollars on seeds, potting soil, fertilizer, and pots for such a small patch of ground. I made many trips to the library in order to research everything I could find on gardening. I was even watching gardening shows such as The Victory Garden on PBS. Gardening became my passion to say the least. It also served as a philosophical lesson on growth, life, death, and rebirth.

To my credit I did manage somehow to grow a couple of very small watermelons and even several corn stalks. I grew beans and cucumbers which climbed the wire fence. I planted moonflowers, a white luminous and fragrant flower which blooms in the evening. We built a small wooden bench to sit and watch our garden grow.   On summer evenings we would witness the moonflowers opening their petals as they glowed in the moonlight.

As I sat on our homeade garden bench I contemplated the fragility of life. It is a law of the universe that not all seeds will grow. Even those seeds to make it to the stage of a sturdy seedling can die. And when the winds of winter come with the first freeze, even the healthiest of plants will know it is time to end this part of their journey. Being a part of this process, a willing witness, helped me to understand my loss as part of a larger whole. Losing my baby was not some personal attack from the universe. It is something that happens as part of life.

I could sit and ponder why some seeds did not grow. Was it too much water, not enough sunlight, poor soil? Or I could accept that sometimes life ends prematurely. My garden helped me to get to the acceptance stage of my grief.

In addition to life and death I also learned about rebirth in my small garden. I would reap my "harvest" of a bowl of beans, a few cabbages, baby watermelons and some Indian corn. I watched my garden wither and die and old vines became blanketed in a layer of snow. But this was the time for sitting in the warmth of my home and perusing the seed catalogs and planning for spring. At this time I also would see a fertility specialist to see what could be done to help us have a baby. We went through several garden seasons before I became pregnant.

One of the most peaceful and happy moments in my life was when my belly was round and ripe as one of my baby watermelons. I sat on the fresh soil of my newly planted garden, with my protruding belly, and plucked the weeds from in between the seedlings. It was an indescribable feeling of true connection to whatever force is in us all to heal, grow, and create.

I can fully attest to the fact that you don't need much space to grow a garden. If you have no backyard you can have a garden of potted plants on your patio, deck, or stoop. If you don't have access to outdoor space it is always possible to have indoor plants such as a pot of flowers or herbs set by your kitchen window. There are also plants and flowers which are forgiving of those without a green thumb such as flowering cactuses, spider plants, or African violets.   Just a few month ago I bought an orchid which barely needs watering and doesn't need much light.   It still looks lovely today for such little time or money invested.   Anyone can partake in the beauty of plants and flowers regardless of skill, space, or even time.

Grow something. Plant some seeds. Feel the soil in your hands. Care for a plant. It is a natural and easy way to ease the pain of grief and depression.

A special note: I am bringing back my personal blog out of the attic so if you want to stop by you may find me at: I Get By With a Little Help From my Friends