Monday, May 27, 2013

The Power Of The Garden

In a previous post I talked about thriving lawns and gardens acting as status symbols that were easily viewed by the public at large.  The lush, carefully-maintained, curbside landscapes of Laredo give hints to the outside world of someone's standing in society.  Nowadays neighborhood associations might influence the requirements of a private, outdoor setting.  But regardless of inspiration, a nice carpet of grass reflects well on the homeowners. 

A colleague responded to my observation by saying that her grandmother wasn't attempting to impress anyone in caring for her beautiful lawn.  Granted, an ultra-green, St. Augustine sod layout in a humble neighborhood might not invoke the thought of financial security, but perhaps it points to other qualities the caretaker possesses, such as patience, permanence, experience or knowledge.  For people who put a personal touch on their landscapes - making it distinctive from others - their work may be more of a hobby.  Whatever the case, it's not unusual to see nice lawns in Laredo's middle class neighborhoods and working class barrios.

A story in the NY Times this weekend featured some background on Asian refugees who work community gardens to, among other things, ease the stresses of daily life.

Many immigrant and refugee cultures do not have a tradition of formal mental health treatment, said Rocco Cheng, a psychologist and a director of the California Reducing Disparities Project, a statewide policy study. “Therapy is a Western concept,” he said. “The Hmong do not have a word for mental illness.” But, he said, they are well able to grasp the idea of mental, physical, spiritual and emotional wellness.

A whole host of factors will decide whether or not a person seeks mental health treatment:  access, culture, stigma, or consent.  I for one can't say that I know anyone in my family who has ever sought the care of a mental health specialist.  In our society I think people look for other outlets to deal with their demons.  However, I can't stress enough the benefits that physical activity has on the body and mind. 

I get some type of therapy every time I work on my yard.  Whether I'm toiling hard enough to develop new blisters on my fingers, or just watering each plant carefully, the outdoor activity clears my mind and recharges me entirely.  This is where local gardens and lawns come in.  For some, a garden might just be a hobby -- something to help pass the time, or a creation that stems from a real passion for gardening.
But I have to wonder if somebody actually takes the time to go through the motions of landscaping to cure something like loneliness.  People have been known to talk to their plants.  You can probably think of different reasons why people garden. 

If nothing else, seeing a garden from the planning phase to the time it actually matures gives a person a sense of accomplishment.  That definitely has the potential of giving somebody a feeling of wellness.  

In my case, my landscape is constantly evolving.  Some plants work, some don't.  My preferences change with time.  I move things around to make the most of them.  I try out different trees, plants, accents.  The things that work in the garden, the ones that last, will stay with me forever.  My yard, I can surely say, has helped keep me sane.  It's also helped me keep fit.  And it's an example of my character, I suppose.  There's a sense of pride and longevity that's on full display.  Looking at it from this perspective, my garden is a reflection of me: one with deep roots in the community, many features, and an overall health.  

Thanks for reading.      

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