It’s been a rough few months in the 505. We’re having a challenging gardening season, to say the least. Dry. Hot. Intense. The unraveling of our climate has been on full display.
Whether you’re choosing more adaptive plants and creating habitat or beginning your gardening journey, no doubt you’ve lost plants this summer — or worried about it. I’ve been calling it the Summer of Feeling Like a Not So Great Gardener.
Just to put this in perspective, I’ve been gardening for over 30 years and I’ve struggled and learned a lot this summer. Learning to steward land in a way that’s in alignment with our changing climate is not easy. But it’s crucial.
In the midst of these challenges, you might be experiencing more emotions than you’re used to — anxiety, for example? Frustration, perhaps. Confusion about where to start. Sadness at all the loss and devastation. Feeling alone. Lack of confidence. Overwhelm. Anger. Dread.
So, what’s a gardener to do? It’s easy to think our emotions are totally separate from the scorching heat. We’re used to compartmentalizing — experiencing emotions and deep spiritual questions in one part of our life and tackling complex external issues, like choosing climate-ready trees to plant, in another part of our life. No matter how well we’re dealing with these emotions, they’re bound to creep into our external gardening. What if, instead of shutting ourselves down in order to accomplish the daunting task of adapting our urban forest to the changes before us, we actually bring our emotional and spiritual selves into the garden? This is precisely the zone where deep and meaningful climate resilience awaits us — in the cultivation of our Home Gardens with our Inner Gardens. We grow an ability to weather storms, to adapt as things unravel — in both our inner and outer landscapes.
For example, let’s look at overwhelm, which is so common these days and to which we gardeners are not immune. We might be asking, “Am I doing enough? Am I making the right changes and adaptations? Which do I do first — spread mulch or create ways to passively harvest the rain?” We might be worrying about how much water we’re using or that we’re not using enough. There are so many decisions to make, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Here’s what I recommend for dealing with overwhelm:
- Notice: Take a deep breath and recognize, “Ahh, this is overwhelm. That’s all it is. It’s happening in my inner garden, inside my heart.” That’s the first step. Pause. Notice it. Take a breath with it. The inner garden is what is happening in our consciousness — which primarily lives at the level of our heart (not our brain). There’s a lot of fertile ground to work with in there.
- Just be: Next, take 15 minutes and just go outside and sit in the garden. Find a place to just be. Don’t plan or make any lists, just sit and breathe. Don’t skip this step, it’s the most important one. Listen to the sounds, feel the soil, notice the smells. What insights come through?
- Create: Then, find a special place in the garden and create something to help remind you of what insights came up. It can be very simple, just something that speaks to you — a gathering of stones, an arrangement of leaves, a circle of flower petals. When we take the time to tend what’s growing within our inner garden, we have more inner space to effectively handle what’s happening in our outer garden. This is resilience.
- Reconnect: The next time you’re doing a garden task — like weeding — briefly pause and reconnect with your inner garden in your heart. Set a simple intention to help shift the pattern of overwhelm, such as “This garden belongs to all who live here, human and non-human. May my activities today bring benefit to all the beings here.” And then carry on weeding, but with this intention.
An intention like this can shift our state of mind away from overwhelm and into a place of gratitude and caring. From this place, we’ll make better gardening decisions. We might notice that the birds need more water and fill an old Frisbee with water and put a rock in it. We might start giving ourselves the space to be imperfect in our gardening. We might begin to see ourselves more as a caretaker of the space and less as the “owner” — ”our” garden becomes “the” garden.
The inner garden and the home garden have a profound and interdependent relationship. As we tend both of them together, we cultivate a deeper resilience in both gardens. This adaptation and flexibility then ripple from our own hearts out into the world, so in need of our tending and care.