Garden Therapy?

Birdbath Planter

Birdbath Planter

The discovery of a woodchuck burrow in the garden was disheartening. I have enough garden foes— deer that lie in our grass and dine at night; they won’t run unless you chase them, and invincible, invisible armadillos. Not to forget the other members of the Jacob backyard animal alliance: possums, rabbits, raccoons, fox, squirrels, chipmunks and coyotes. Someone is sending a message: Forsake gardening. Your yard is destined to be a wildlife preserve.

My top stress-relievers include reading and gardening. When gardening is stressful, I go shopping. I don’t head to the mall—four hours in a mall and I need a therapist—I go to nurseries and greenhouses.

The array of vegetables, flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees in a nursery can capture my attention for hours—hours that pass like minutes. My friend Kathryn says time stops in a nursery. This peculiar loss of time also occurs when I write. It does not occur when I’m chasing deer; that is a waste of time.

Last spring I planned to buy old-fashioned impatiens but changed my mind when I saw a new cultivar. The label stated they tolerated part sun/shade. Other labels said shade/part sun. I tried to remember how many hours of sun and shade hit the area of the garden where they were going to be planted. Kathryn noticed me staring at the ground, which was atypical considering my surroundings. She asked what was wrong. I explained my confusion over the sun/part shade versus shade/part sun labels. Kathryn, a Master Gardener Emeritus who knows the Latin name of nearly every plant, laughed and said, “They mean the same thing. The plant does well in shade and can tolerate several hours of sun, but not during the hottest part of the day.”

Nurseries often showcase the latest landscape and container garden designs. I saw a cement birdbath used as a planter at a local greenhouse. The form and texture were perfect for a large-scale container garden. There weren’t many birds frequenting my birdbath but I’d seen plenty of mosquitoes flying around despite the charcoal pellets I threw in the water to stop their eggs from hatching. I dumped the water and turned it into a centerpiece for a small area I named the Birdbath Garden. (It’s been renamed the Woodchuck Garden.)

Nurseries and greenhouses are great resources for plant identification. If I have time, I look at all the plants in a nursery and quiz myself on names. Because I’m a Master Gardener, people get a thrill out of testing me on plant names. I can’t remember the names of several plants in my own garden.

My husband RJ uses word association to remember plant names. It works but unfortunately the names stuck—the variegated leaf Santana in our garden is blooming. The light pink flowers on the Spyro Gyra are gone and the Peter Yarrow is drooping. Occasionally RJ breaks with his musical theme. He glanced at the purple, spiky flowers arranged on the dining room table a few years ago and said, “The Saliva looks great this year.”  (You say Lantana; RJ says Santana. I say Spirea; he says Spyro Gyra. We both refer to Salvia as Saliva in the privacy of our home.)

Like an antiques dealer at an estate sale, a gardener hunts for treasure; a new species or cultivar nobody dares call garden variety. I was in my favorite nursery when I screeched, “What is that?” after spotting flowers with lovely yellow throats and gently ruffled white borders. An older gentlemen with perfectly creased trousers stared at me. My face blended nicely with the scarlet petunias. I was reaching for the mystery flower tag when a hand gently touched my shoulder. The older gentlemen told me the flowers were the first yellow petunia, a cultivar called ‘Lemon Zest.’ He and his wife, who passed away five months prior, thought they were remarkable too.

The chance of running into someone in a nursery who doesn’t like gardening or lacks awareness of his or her effect on the environment is rare. The benefits I’ve detailed, plus the lack of mirrors and changing rooms, makes garden shopping a therapeutic experience.


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Jules Jacob

julie ginkgoJulie "Jules" Jacob is a contemporary poet who often writes about dichotomous conditions and relationships among humans and the natural world. Her poems are recently featured or forthcoming in Plume Poetry, The Tishman Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Rust + Moth, Yes Poetry and elsewhere. She is the author of The Glass Sponge chapbook with select poems featured at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts and Le Moulin à Nef where she was a resident of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Poetry Workshop.

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