Monday, June 20, 2011

Quality of life in the garden

"Wow that's a lot of hard work!" — a common statement when people look at a big garden.
"I could never afford that." — another phrase I hear frequently.
In disagreeing, I don't want to mislead anyone about the required investment of time, sweat and money in garden work. But I do find that when people change their perspectives just a bit, these statements change as well.
To budding gardeners who are letting the fear of this investment stand in the way of starting a garden, a source of nourishment on so many levels, I ask: How can you integrate the garden into your daily lifestyle? Can you look beyond the hard numbers of a garden budget and instead to the wide value it adds to your life? Do you think your quality of life will improve such that the investment is worth it?
Almost everyday I think of a new reason of why I garden, but I'm perhaps motivated most by the need for physical work. Gardening is both muscle-building and meditative, and I love the tactile and sensory qualities of it.
For a five-year period of my life in my twenties, my living situation switched between several rental arrangements. That meant space for gardening was limited. Considering I had lived and worked on organic farms the four years prior to this period, I spent a lot of time dreaming about an edible yard on a piece of property I would own someday in the future.
These pictures in my head grew most vibrant while I ran on the treadmill at the gym. While I needed my daily gym routine to release stress, I was unfulfilled within the stale-sweat odor and four walls. I preferred the sound of birds, the scent of soil and the sensation of dirt on my fingers.
When I finally did take the step toward home ownership, my realtors had a hard time understanding why I cared most about the lawn size and sun exposure, so much so that I would ignore houses' structural issues. (Well, until the realtors, rightly so, brought me to my senses.)
Soon after I moved to my new property and laid out my garden beds, I dropped 20 pounds. The hour that I spent at the gym in my twenties, plus the commuting time to and from it, is now spent in the garden. My membership fees now go to seed orders and equipment purchases. And I receive the benefits of the gym, plus much more.
A lot of people treasure their time at the gym. If you do, don't give that up! It's important to keep the activities that nourish you. (For me, daily walks on the Mountains to Sea trail are a priority above gardening). The only way gardening will stay in your life is if you don't let it rule your life. Instead, examine your life goals and see how gardening can integrate within it.
When I allow time for the garden, the other areas of my life tend to flow. I gain inspiration for my writing. I find solutions to pressing issues, as my mind drifts between work projects to relationship issues to the state of our society. And I build muscles that I never knew existed, which greatly improves my athletic and dance abilities. Part of the reason why dance (my means of exercise in the winter) comes so easily to me is because of the bodily awareness I gain in the garden.

     I haven't even touched yet on perhaps the biggest benefit of the garden: good food. On a daily basis, a plate sits on my dinner table that rivals what I could buy at the best restaurants in town. I have become so spoiled by the quality of vegetables from a healthy garden that my body has become sensitive to all foods. Buying organic and unprocessed food is an activity no longer driven by my ideals and values, but by my nutritional requirements. Even in winter, I can enjoy the summer's bounty that I canned, froze or cured and stored.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this quality food is the reason why I rarely get colds or viruses. It's why I feel fulfilled by the simpler things in life, instead of continually seeking "more." It's why I have a clear vision for my life path, my career and my community.
I'm not implying all your dreams will come true if you just plant a garden. In fact, unless you manage a garden properly, incorporate time-saving systems, and find ways to fit it into your schedule, it could become a burden. It could also lead to heat exhaustion in mid-summer if you don't plan time for tending it in the early morning or evening hours.
Yet I do encourage those interested yet intimidated by gardening to first examine their top priorities. Do you want more time outdoors? More time with family? More time for goal-setting or meditation? Perhaps gardening can fit into those priorities. Time tends to open up, as the hours spent in the produce aisle or behind the lawn mower decrease, and the energy to pursue other life goals increases.

The other overwhelming part of the gardening is learning how to do it! You can hire Megan to help you design a garden system that fits your lifestyle and needs, set up a management plan, and work with you in the garden as you begin your new endeavors. Set up an appointment with Megan by calling 828.333.4151 or emailing