In an earlier post, I talked about some of my gardening experience and how it relates to recovery from depression. I think some of the lessons can be applied to recovery in general. I thought I was done with that topic for a while, but I see some more possible application. Before I continue, I’d like to tell you a little background for how I ended up being the caretaker for this yard.
My grandparents passed away last year. I moved into their house, where they lived for over 30 years. The last three to four years of their lives, they were not in good health. They needed round the clock care. So of course, they weren’t able to take care of the yard the way they wanted to. Now that it’s my home, I feel a responsibility to take care of this land where I live now. And I hope this doesn’t sound new age-y or “Woo-oo-oo-oo-oo,” but I feel like by reclaiming their yard, I am in some way keeping their presence alive here.
Ok, so there’s a little bit of my sentimentality. Now here are my gardening/recovery tips.
Get your tools.
Across the yard I don’t do much work to remove weeds. Just spread some type of Weed-and-Feed. Grass and weeds sometimes pop up in the sidewalk or driveway. A shot of Roundup is good enough for that. I’m not going to use it on the whole yard, which I think is way too destructive. Just a few weeds here or there away from the yard or other plants.
But when you get around the trees or into the flower beds, you don’t want any kind of chemicals there. They might kill or damage the flowers and trees you want. Weeds in those areas require a more hands on approach, which means you need the right tools: Gloves, hand spade, Garden Weasel(R) Cultivator and Weed Popper, hedge clippers, and pruner.
I wear gloves for all yard work because some of these weeds growing up have thorns. I need some protection to get a good grip and pull them out. Also, even though I’ve remembered the “Leaves of three, Leave it be” rule, sometimes I still get these welts like insect bites or poison ivy, so I’m wearing long sleeves to work anywhere in the yard.
Some weeds are too entrenched to just pull out. You can get the weed, but too much of the root is left behind. This Weed Popper comes in handy.
You place it so the little blades go into the ground on both sides of the weed, twist it around a full 360 degrees, and it pulls up the weed and root with it. It can even get ordinary dandelions pretty well. But I’ve seen these bigger weeds that are like dandelions crossbred with thistle. My friend called them dandelions on steroids.
For this, I need another standing weed remover but bigger. This Cultivator I’ve found works well on them. You can get the whole plant out, and it pulls up the root as well.
It’s made for cultivating ground, but it’s okay to repurpose your tools. It works similar to the Weed Popper. You get these spikes into the ground, twist, and pull up the weed.
When you pull up a big weed like this, it leaves a hole, and that brings me to my next lesson.
Do not leave a hole unfilled, because an empty space will be filled one way or another.
Since weeds grow faster than anything else, they will fill any emptiness if left unattended. Not to mention this Garden Weasel leaves a hole big enough for someone’s foot to slip in and twist and sprain and sue you. I try to leave as much of the original dirt as I can, not just after these big weeds but even the smaller ones, while leaving as little of the root behind as I can.
Soil is neutral.
It will grow almost anything you plant if it has the right nutrient content and is in the right climate. You can’t blame the soil for your weeds, so it’s up to you to keep the soil cleared of undesirables and plant and tend the right seeds.
Sometimes they’re not weeds. They’re just in the wrong place.
I want nice healthy green grass in the yard, but not in the flower beds. I’ve probably pulled up more grass than weeds in the flower beds. And the type of grass in my yard has a very extensive, intricate, intertwining root system, which is good for crowding out weeds in the yard, but you don’t want it getting mixed with the flower’s roots.
It requires some pulling, digging, and breaking up grassroots along with the weeds and their roots. It’s a lot more involved than I expected, but I think flowers and trees need a clearly delineated space.
It’s not just about removing weeds. It’s about clearing space for what you want in your yard.
The bushes around the front are mostly azaleas. And there’s a big rose bush on the east end of the yard. They had looked a little sickly the last few years. My grandparents were living here, and they weren’t in any shape to take care of the yard or flowers. As I examined the bushes, it was easy to see why. Some vines grew up and wrapped around the branches and twigs, choking the life out of them. And there were other plants, like budding acorns, growing right underneath, sometimes they to the point that they looked like something had been grafted in to the azaleas and roses. I cleared them out a few months ago and removed most of the dead branches. This spring, those bushes produced more flowers than they had in years.
Some bushes had grown so much, though, that they were crowding out their neighbors. For example, I had pink azaleas growing into and blending in with white azaleas. The pink was threatening to take over the white. So I decided it was time to trim the hedges. I pulled out the hedge clippers and pruners and went to work. It sounds a little backwards. I had done all this work to remove weeds and thorns so the azaleas and roses could thrive, and they thrived so much I’m actually cutting back on their growth. But gardening isn’t about letting the desirable plants grow indiscriminately. It’s about setting parameters so all the desirable plants are free to grow and thrive and contribute to the variety of the garden as a whole.
Know when to say, That’s enough for today.
I worked in the flowerbeds most of the morning and had lunch. I knew I had made progress, but there was more to be done. My body was telling me not to go back out, but I didn’t listen. I was just going to work on this one patch of weeds, but I continued to work through most of the afternoon. Two days later, I’m still sore.
When my grandfather was still strong enough to work in the yard, we used to joke about how he was “addicted to weed,” because once he got started pulling weeds, he could be out all day if someone didn’t call him in. Let me tell you, that condition is hereditary. You may intend to work on one very specific patch of ground this time, but then there are a few more weeds here, a few more there. Now the flowerbed looks unbalanced. If you just take care of that patch, it will look better. Ok, another patch and I’ll almost be through. Just one more patch… You get the idea.
Like reclaiming a yard, garden, or flowerbed after years of neglect, recovery is not going to happen all in one day. If you’ve made progress and are encouraged to continue, but it was draining – physically or emotionally – or you have other responsibilities to attend to, you have a life, leave the yard for now. It will still be there tomorrow. Give yourself permission to say, “That’s enough for today,” and then for the rest of the day, take care of anything else that needs your attention.
I was hoping these two posts could present gardening as a metaphor for recovery. I may not have made those parallels clear all the way through, and I apologize for that. Maybe you will see some application to your life that I don’t. That’s the nature of parables: They leave room for you to interpret them out of your own experience.
In general, I see the work of recovery as three things: 1) planting the seeds of your best self and best life, 2) promoting the growth of those seeds in healthy ways, and 3) removing the weeds and roots that crowd out and even choke to death the good seeds in the garden of your life – metaphorically speaking, of course.
So like gardening, I have found the following true in recovery:
- Getting it right takes time and work.
- There is a natural tendency for weeds to overtake and choke out the beautiful parts of your garden.
- All plants have roots. To really get the weeds out, you have to pull and dig up the roots. That can get messy.
- With the right tools and a little consistent effort, the weeds are no match for you.
- No one tool can do every job, so keep trying until you find what works.
- As you remove the wrong plants, fill in the empty places left with good soil and the right kind of seeds.
- Under the right conditions, the seeds of recovery – love, joy, peace, faith, hope, vision, purpose, camaraderie, and confidence – will grow and bloom. The conditions are as simple as simple as soil, water, and sunlight.
If you have any ideas of how gardening and recovery might be related, I would love for you to leave a comment below.
Grace and Peace to you.
If you want to read Part 3, click here.