Garden of Useful Plants, Montreal Botanic Garden

A Year of Happy!

Inspired by a new year we follow a familiar path as we resolve to; spend more time with family & friends, learn something new, help others, eat better, exercise more, reduce stress, and save money.   The list designed to inspire us to be our better selves often does just the opposite and creates more stress within the first month of the year. If only there was an easy way to achieve these resolutions! Well, “There is a garden for that!”

Any garden will do but The Garden of Useful Plants in theMontreal Botanical Garden illustrates the essence of a good life especially in these uncertain economic times. Indeed this garden originated in 1936 in the midst of the Depression. Landscape designer, Henry Teuscher had just finished drawing the plans for the Montreal Botanic garden that year.  Yet plans for a garden are rarely really finished and he unexpectedly found himself with multitude of  men eager to labor through the Canadian Public Works Program. Inspired to make their lives better he designed the  Garden of Useful Plants.

Creation of this unique garden served to help the workers learn something, eat better, reduce stress, get lots of exercise, help their families, and earn money.  The garden continues today to help all visitors achieve the similar goals.

The Montreal Botanical is considered to be one of the most outstanding gardens in the world.  With 27 thematic gardens it requires the energy of the explorer to discover all it holds.  You can visit 27 types of gardens and acres and acres of arboretum. There are  examples of Chinese, Native Peoples, Alpine, Rose, Aquatic, Japanese, Crevice gardens and more.  There is unending beauty in flowering plants, color combinations, cultural details, and garden hardscape.  Yet I found myself fascinated by The Garden of Useful Plants. This is after all the heart of gardening, full of edible plants for humans, for livestock, plants which can be transformed into textiles, or pressed into oil.  Plants which heal our bodies, flavor our food, keeping us healthy, fed, warm, and functioning in this world today.

The garden is organized by plant parts or  “from roots to fruits and shoots to leaves.”  It is informative, inspiring and surprising to wander through such a collection of plants. I was overcome by the extent of the plants and the pure potential of the soil and charged out with an evangelistic zeal to grow more useful plants  It was a zeal  similar to that energy which prompts those resolutions made on the eve of the New Year.

Realistically recreational gardeners cannot plant so many purposeful plants. I will not grow cotton to spin into cloth for clothes or grow all my food. It would be an enormous amount of work require so much space and as the enthusiasm wanes I just hope for a good radish crop. This often happens to our New Year resolutions.

Still after a visit to Montreal I see the inspiration a garden provides to help keep those New Year’s resolution

If you want to spend more time with family & friends, andsave money the garden outside your door,  provides a ready space to gather and enjoy each other.  Working in the garden, entertaining, relaxing and visiting are all available and affordable within just a few steps.

If you want to learn something new, there is an unending knowledge of the natural world to explore.  If you help a 5 year old boy discover the scent of plants in a garden and see his eyes light up in surprise, it will make your day.  You will also be mentoring a new generation in ways of connecting to nature.

Michael Pollan author of Food Rules, writes “Eat food, mostly plants!”  The odds of achieving the goal to  eat better, increases greatly with a vegetable garden. Your creativity may be stimulated as new, interesting crops, such as rainbow chard flourish in your garden, spurring you to make fun, nutritious meals to share with family and friends.

Working in your garden gets you exercising: rake the leaves for a cardio session, rotate your flower pots and you will stretch and bend, move bags of mulch and you’re lifting weights.

Reduce your stress levels and increase your optimism while walking around your garden noting the new shoots and buds that will be opening soon. The garden landscape helps connect you to the natural rhythms of the seasons and cycles of life.

All those popular resolutions can be achieved in a garden.  What could be easier for gardeners?  Cultivate  those resolutions and find a Year of Happy!

Originally published in Roots & Shoots, Maricopa County Master Gardener Newsletter.


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