Zen gardening for LTC

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Here's my naïve and rather radical gardening philosophy — it should be an act of joy, not stress or fear. But another striving human I know, along with a few people I've met in long-term care, seems to have a hard time embracing that viewpoint. 

She loves her garden — that's not in question. But she's obsessed with maintaining absolute control over all plant-like organisms within the borders of her suburban kingdom, and with achieving specific targeted outcomes in every vegetable patch and flowerbed. As a result, she can't relax. Ever. 

Did she water too much, or not enough? Are shredded tires a better mulch than coconut husks? Could barbecue fumes kill the rhododendron, or will the fertilizer that saves her tomatoes poison her pets? Are hordes of ravenous, undocumented moles even now exploiting weaknesses in the chicken-wire fence protecting her prized arugula sanctuary? This tortured monologue keeps her awake at night. 

My anxious and performance-immersed friend tries desperately, and vainly, to rule a world that is entirely beyond her dominion, and is so focused on reaching harvest goals and thwarting garden-based evil that she's missing the daily magic of growth and nurture.  

So here's what I often tell her, with love: “Hey! Control freak! Maybe you need to just pause once in a while. Take a breath. Plunge your hands in the dirt and plant your mind deep in the present. Rediscover the joy and privilege of this moment and the pure relief of gardening fearlessly in the now.”

Then I duck the serrated garden trowel. 

In long-term care, given our entirely understandable and necessary obsession with stars and stats, we might sometimes consider similar advice. Only by remembering who we serve and by nurturing an intentional balance of journey and destination can we preserve the meaning and joy in the work we do. And only then can our gardens be truly bountiful. n