Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Need for Peace

Doesn't my oregano pot just look so zen and peaceful?
I’ve had a somewhat chaotic couple of days – so much so that I almost forgot that today was Thursday, otherwise known as blog-day 2.  I didn’t quite forget, though, so here I am at 10 pm, writing my post. 

The chaos has been making me feel a bit like a dishrag, so I thought a good topic would be something really relaxing, even more than reading or watching movies. That’s why I’m going to talk about gardening. 

Now, I haven't always regarded gardening as a source of relaxation.  In fact, when I was a teenager I loathed it.  This was because in my mind it was entirely reduced to the work of…weeding (insert groan here).  It was a popular chore for my parents to assign me, because I was very good at it.  When I finished with a garden, there wasn’t a single weed left anywhere.  I practically went over the soil with a magnifying glass.

My interest in gardening used to be about this big!
Perhaps you can gather why I hated it.  My extreme precision style of weeding was the fruit of that neurotic side which we all have, but which manifests differently for each person.  It manifested for me in garden weeding and car washing, so I detested both jobs despite the praise heaped on me for doing such a good job.  I knew that if I went out to weed an eight-by-six-foot garden, I’d not be done for a good two to three hours simply because of the punishment of my own personality.  I did anything to avoid it, even bargaining with my mom to let me do her ironing so that she could weed.  I don’t even like ironing, but it was better than the alternative.

Then I went to college, moved away from my home for four years, read lots of brainy books and really got into writing and cooking, which still remain my two most beloved occupations.  In the process of falling in love with cuisine, I became interested in what I was eating and the cost of what I was eating (I was an impoverished college student with a gourmet appetite, after all).  Interest in what I was eating made me think about organic food and fresh vegetables and sustainable/seasonal menus.  Interest in the cost of my food prompted me to look for money-saving techniques. 

The result of these new interests was a slowly, timidly awakening enthusiasm for gardening.  I realized that the pastime was not actually about fanatical weeding, but about planting what you want to see come up, and then lovingly waiting and tending until it does come up and you can rejoice, either because of the beauty you see or because of the beauty you taste (or in many cases, both).  The things you grow are more flavorful and healthier than what grocery stores provide.  Besides this, you save money: for the cost of a few packets of seeds and maybe a pot or two, you can have fresh produce for at least three months during the year, and if you do a bit of preserving, for sometimes all twelve! 

The green in these dishes is my own garden-fresh Basil!
Anyway, I didn't move back to Idaho from college and instantly become an avid gardener.  I’ve taken several years to settle comfortably into my life as an adult, but finally this summer it seemed like the time to make my first foray.  So I planted herbs.  Since I cook largely Mediterranean food, with occasional visits to Mexico or Asia, I chose the herbs that show up most frequently.  Basil: Italian, Greek and Thai cooking.  Oregano: Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking.  Italian parsley: French and Italian cooking. 

Now does this have anything to do with writing?  Not directly, though I wouldn’t mind eventually writing a story about a gardener.  I did write a poem about basil, but poetry emerges from a different part of my imagination than fiction does; it’s not something I have to balance since it’s more spontaneous and intermittent. 

However, where I do find that gardening provides a healing influence is in my overall creativity.  In order to be a writer (or a painter, architect, photographer, sculptor or anything else), I have to foster the habit of creativity.  Occasionally I get to a point, because of work or whatever, where I’m not doing anything creative.  I just grade and teach and sleep and eat and grade some more.  During such periods, I have a really hard time starting the writing process, because my mind is not flowing on the right path. 

Now my interest in gardening has grown a lot bigger!
With my tiny herb garden in pots this summer, though, I’ve discovered that the careful process of going around each day with my watering can, watching for the tiny sprouts to emerge, then rejoicing as they grow and develop, keeping an eye out for damage and finally harvesting and enjoying the fruits, awakens my mind.  It’s such a peaceful routine and yet one which requires attention and commitment.  It’s an excellent analogy for the artistic process, and so it readily prepares my mind for writing – and lots of it! 

I think the key to gardening (or other small, creative, routine-oriented pastimes) is that it provides a daily retreat for the soul.  Going out to tend to my plants, I withdraw from all other cares for a little while, and devote myself to something that relies on me but also surprises and delights me with a life of its own.  It’s no wonder that often, after making the watering round at midday, I come inside refreshed and relaxed – ready for my stories.  After all, they depend on me too, but most definitely have a vitality all their own.   


  1. The kitchen was not my favorite room, but my own kitchen has slowly become my friend. I have some plants in the front window...but I've two tomato plants and a pepper plant out back. It is nice to go and concentrate so fully on them that all else in the noisy brain seems to cease. And the benefits...have you ever eaten a still sun warmed tomato... Cheers...oh plant some parsley just for the swallowtail caterpillars and perhaps you to will be rewarded by watching their eggs grow and then also seeing the butterflies flutter...

    1. I think everyone's kitchen should be their friend, so I'm glad yours has slowly become that. My parents also have two tomatoes and a pepper, which they allow me to plunder occasionally - 2 + 1 must be the ideal combination!

      I totally know what you mean about the cessation of the noise in the brain. I was just thinning my oregano, and it was so quiet and restful.

  2. I have always loved gardening. Even as a child, I found peace in it. A lot of gardeners feel the spiritual connection you are discovering. You might enjoy reading a book called "Tending the Earth, Mending the Spirit". It's a book filled with quotes from many different gardeners about their connections to their gardens. My Aunt (a master gardener) gave it to me after my husband died, because all my creative outlets (including gardening) had stopped for a while.

    I seem to be in one of those "drought" creative periods again, so I can relate to what mean when you say you "have a really hard time starting the writing process" again.

    Thanks for your encouraging comment on my poem. I really enjoyed your poem "Growing", especially the imagery evoked by the second to last stanza - "Mediterranean... soil and water spilled in the order of farming... here and there surges". I hope your gardening continues to inspire you.

    1. Thank you for the comment! The book sounds interesting so I'll have to look it up. I'm sorry that you have entered a period of creative drought - they are difficult times, I know. As a fellow writer I send my best wishes your way, and hope that it doesn't last too long.