Tending the Garden of My Soul

by Jen Telger



***Warning: If you are currently experiencing a mental health crisis, this post could be triggering. Please proceed with caution and make a healthy choice that is appropriate to your situation.***

In 2018, my daughter innocently passed on words of wisdom that have reached much farther than she will likely ever know. Our conversation went like this:

A: “Mom, do you know what I think is the prettiest thing in your garden?”

Me: “What’s that, baby?”

A: “All the love you put into it.”

It made my heart melt at the time, but it has stuck with me and become much more than a heartwarming moment. As I was recovering from my mental health crisis earlier that year, I began digging through my “toolbox” and reviewing all the skills and techniques I’ve worked on over the years to help me live well and thrive. As I revisited my daughter’s words, I realized that my toolbox is very much like my garden. Let me explain.

Several years ago, I began redoing our front landscaping. It started out as several icky shrubs and hedges with a border of little solar lights that made our corner lot look like nothing short of a LaGuardia landing strip at night. It was ugly and utilitarian. But, changing it all at once wasn’t feasible unless I paid someone else to do it and I wasn’t about to go down that road. I knew my blood, sweat, and German grit could get the job done with more pride and enjoyment than handing someone a big check (that I likely couldn’t cover) could ever do.

Over the course of several years, I removed a few bushes at a time. I pulled out massive rocks, which are now lovingly embraced and displayed as natural decor, many gnarled and hardened old root balls hacked and coerced from the soil with mighty, victorious ululations by me upon their extrication, and lots and lots of sharp sticks and prickers trailing threads of bloody witness to their unceremonious ousting. I also moved insane amounts of dirt into the bargain. As I accomplished the desired result in each section, I added various plants and pieces that I like. I don’t really care for the rhyme and reason of a structured garden that pairs “this” with “that” but never “THAT”; I just plant what I love.

After all that work, 2018 was the first year that I didn’t have to do anything but lay down mulch. My daffodils and crocuses began the botanical symphony with a mezzo piano of lavender and yellow, followed by a crescendo of gorgeous Bearded and Siberian irises as spring swelled, leading in the playful glissando of my blue and pink balloon flowers, daisies, liatris, wild geranium, tickseed, silver mound, oriental lilies, day lilies, and tiger lilies as summer stretched out, and finally giving way to the tried and true canto of my snapdragons and moss roses and various leftover greens. They were all there. They had been planted and loved and established and had reached self-sustainability because of all that love and hard work I put in earlier. When I was forced to step away and was unable to tend to my garden while in crisis, I needn’t have worried. The groundwork had been done; they would be there when I returned.

When we go through crisis, especially in mental health and especially with a chronic affliction, there is a natural fear that we will need to start over from scratch after we claw our way back up and we are just so very tired. How will we ever rebuild our skills when things have gone so very wrong? That’s where the garden comes in.

When we work on our toolbox outside of crisis, when we practice our skills and are mindful and employ self-care, that is the love we are putting into our garden making it stronger and more self-sufficient over time. And when we are in crisis and scared and feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and aren’t sure we have the strength to start over if we come through this, we can remember that the garden has been loved; we don’t need to start over. Just like the flowers that carry on while we’re away, our tools will be there when we resurface because of all the love and hard work we put into them earlier.

Crises happens. There are times when, for whatever reason – and there are TONS of them – we are simply unable to employ the tools we have put in place to help us thrive. That’s not failure, that’s being human. That’s when we need to ask for help. The rest of the time, when we are able, we need to put lots of love into our gardens because it really is the most beautiful thing there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>