Sitting on a Paris bench in May I was enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower. The beds of the park had been freshly dug exposing the rich dark soil and I knew colorful summer plants would be arriving soon. An elderly woman came walking through the grass pulling her shopping cart. She stopped at the flower bed. In the bright light of day she removed her red trowel and a plastic shopping bag. Bending over she began carefully filling the bag with fresh soil.
Mission accomplished, she tucked the small bag of dirt into her cart and began walking back in the direction from which she came. She wanted to grow something! I imagined her returning to her small apartment and filling pots for her windowsill. She might plant seeds, or she may take another walk and snatch a cutting off a park’s geranium! The aim was a plant in her window where every day she could enjoy the beauty of life.
She lived within walking distance of one of the world’s great public parks, yet she needed a more personal connection to nature. In Richard Louv’s Nature Principle he writes “Everyday our relationship with Nature or lack of it influences our lives.” Louv’s persuasive writings for our need of nature in our life is for “thrival” not simply survival. He even suggests our National Park System should be aligned with our Department of Health so important are they to our well-being. He calls Nature our most healthful prescription and advocates a daily dose of Vitamin N!
In a recent article by the popular Doctors Oz & Roizen, they write about the importance of optimism for keeping our bodies healthy. In it they say a long life is a result of having a “zest for life.” They give a an often repeated list of how keeping that attitude results in better heart health, reduced stress and improved mental and physical fitness.
In the life stories of many founders of grand gardens I find a trend. Virginia Robinson of the Robinson Gardens in Hollywood lived just a few months shy of 100 years. She developed and directed her gardens with passion. In her later years she walked daily in her garden and settled down to read in a comfortable chair surrounding herself with the beauty of her King Palm grove. Madame Ganna Walska, gardened in her Lotusland until age 94, still supervising and improvising her garden arrangements. She was always expecting improvement. Ginnie Butchart of Butchart Gardens lavished her attention on her gardens until age 84. She trucked in soil to remake her husband’s depleted rock quarry into her famous sunken gardens. Christopher Lloyd, of Greater Dexter Garden in England worked his garden until just a few months before his death at 84. For 42 years he wrote a weekly gardening column for Britain’s The Guardian, always finding new material to interest his readers.
A connection with soil and nature grows a zest for life. Whether a mogul with millions or a frugal pensioner, if we have a little dirt where we can grow something, we will get our daily dose of Vitamin N.
Gardeners wake up hopeful. We wander out in the morning air, full of expectation. We enjoy the sunrise and we are on the move! Perhaps the bud we noticed yesterday will open in bloom today. Maybe the seeds we planted last week will be popping up their fresh green shoots. There is hope that a favorite plant will be showing signs of settling into its new location and will soon flourish and flower.
We have connections to a larger world in all aspects of life. Our plants need us, for water, for food, for care. We need our plants to brighten our days. Our life is shared with others whether it be in zucchini, lemons or multiplying iris and agaves. Sharing generates energy and more creative ideas. We enjoy being helpful in our world.
Gardeners are resilient. Hungry caterpillars, powdery mildew and broken sprinkler lines will not stop us. There is beauty, joy and adventure in our gardens and it fills our being with happiness and purpose. Following the cycle of the seasons we reduce our anxieties as we witness the ebb and flow of life. Planning ahead as our garden changes we feel some control of our next season. We bring the outdoors in with flowers and fresh food. Anticipation of the sweet taste of salad or cobbler our gardens will soon provide comforts us as we end our day.
In the lottery of life some will have more money for dirt than others. They may buy it by the acre, and haul it in by the truck full. But nature is available to all of us. If you resolve to increase your zest for life, may I suggest a dose of Vitamin N – whether it is a walk in a park, fresh soil in a pot or an ambitious garden overhaul – if we grow a little something, we have a zest for life.
Published in Roots & Shoots http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/roots_march_2014.pdf