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My Garden
When menopause and chemical sensitivities interacted to disable me, my garden rescued me. It has become my passion, my art, my healing spiritual practice.

Garden samadhi

One form of meditation emphasizes concentration, to the point that your whole awareness is occupied with what you're concentrating on. The yogis call it samadhi. In my garden, samadhi is much easier for me than anywhere else. I get totally identified with the task at hand, with the plants, with the garden as a being in itself, of which the plants and I are part.

The plants

Plants have such vibrant personalities! I love meeting new ones, and introducing them to my garden. I love getting really familiar with the ones I have: knowing the shapes they grow in; what they look like when they first emerge from the ground in the spring, tiny and fresh; how to propagate them; what other plants they will coexist with peaceably and which ones will crowd them out (or vice versa); their names and where they came from originally.... As I work in the garden, they sit singing to me with their colors, their scents, the health of their leaves, the direction of their growth. They tell me what it's like to be where they are: sometimes where they would rather be, often how much they celebrate being alive right where they are. They give me great joy, they draw me to them.

The dance

Even more than the plants, the garden as a whole speaks to me, feeds me. It's an artistic composition that I create in cooperation with the plants and the earth. I get lost in concentrating on color, texture, form, timing of bloom; and how the needs of the plants for light and moisture influence their placement. The experience of creating this beauty is fundamentally fulfilling to me.

I've read a lot of books on garden design that direct you to plan the garden completely, from the shapes of the beds to the plants that you will put in them, in their exact location in the bed. But it doesn't work that way for me. One plant spreads all over the bed, another doesn't like the soil, one ends up being a color that just doesn't go with the others.... In my garden, the design is a continuous conversation between me, the plants, and the site. Or perhaps a dance.


The digging and lifting and pulling is hard physical labor for me. It's about the only exercise I get, but I do it for four or six hours, day after day in gardening season. I find exercise done for the sake of exercise silly and boring, compared to this labor of love. It's important for me to get weight-bearing exercise, to decrease my osteoporosis. I have to be careful of some uses of my back and arms, but I do a pretty good job of respecting my body's limits.

When I'm outdoors, my chronic pain is much diminished. Even in our old house, where I've found substitutes for so many normal household products because of their chemicals, where there's no new paint or rugs or anything like that, where air filters clear the air from the computer... I still have more pain than outdoors. Being outside makes it possible for me to exercise, to work.


The garden also gives me occasions to make contact with people. This is precious to me because I can't go to most kinds of social occasions, since the scent of personal care products makes me sick. (There are a few fragrant flowers I have to avoid — the broom family, Cytisus, for example — but not many.)

I get help by hiring neighborhood youngsters. I used to hire boys, because everyone does. But then I found some girls who were interested, and on the whole, I have enjoyed working with them more. Most of the girls are simply more interested in the garden than most of the boys were (except for one artist).

Our place, ourselves

I couldn't do this large garden without the help, but it's equally important to me, to pass on the passion for gardening. So few people in our society realize how important to our spiritual well-being is the beauty and health of our neighborhood.

I'd love to talk garden with anyone who wants to get in touch.

© copyright Catherine Holmes Clark 1998; last updated 28 November 1998