Safe Space

How gardening changed my life.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTOPHER REID

My mother is a gardener, my grandmother was a gardener, my great-grandmother was a gardener. Not me. As a small child, I helped my grandmother weed and water the plants. I can remember seeing her grab a rogue chicken that was shredding one of her prize ferns and quickly break its neck. Later, we had it for dinner! (If that doesn’t make you mind your manners, nothing will.)

Alas, I was more like that chicken than my grandmother: any plants I touched died. So I avoided them—until my children were old enough to go to school and I went back into the working world. At that time my mother was a buyer for a retail greenhouse, and the owners needed someone to run it when she was out buying plants. They hired me. I guess they thought I had my mother’s know-how about plants. I didn’t.

Oh, how I’d missed it. It was the return of a dear old friend!

Those first few days of the booming Spring gardening season, I was virtually alone with mobs of people asking plant questions. It was terrifying. Farmers who knew way more than I ever will about vegetables asked for this or that variety. I searched desperately, feeling like a complete jackass as they grumbled and rolled their eyes. Housewives needing something that would grow nicely in a shady or sunny spot got blank looks from me. People bought things just because they were pretty, then expected me to tell them what they should do to help them grow. I wrote pages of people’s names and numbers, promising to call them later when I found out the answers they wanted. Oh, my!

By the end of the planting season, though, I’d begun to know stuff. I’d gotten good at the standard questions and had learned how to water everything properly. I started to see things that I touched flourish. Me! Sometimes odd plants that were ailing would be placed around the corner, out of the retail area, to recover or go on to that great greenhouse in the sky. I started seeing those as challenges, researching how to fix them and proudly putting them back on the sales floor when they were back to beautiful.

I also started keeping broken plant pieces and rooting them, just to see if I could! All of a sudden, it was fun! I took plants home and, instead of killing them, enjoyed them!

After all too few wonderful seasons in the greenhouse, the economy crashed. Our owners had to close our store, and Mom took early retirement. I went back to school and got my degree in computer network systems. I worked hard at it, managed to graduate as valedictorian, and got a job right away working for our local utility company. But I missed the greenhouse.

The utility company job was a very high-stress environment. I had a difficult boss and was basically on call 24/7. Plus, I no longer had time for my flowers. I remember looking at my beds full of dead weeds and longing for those greenhouse days. The pay back then was half of my utility pay, but I would have taken that job back in a second if I could have!

Because I was able to afford more things, I bought a DSLR camera. I took photos of plants to help with my garden withdrawal. Photos of beautiful flowers were at least something to look at in those stressful moments.

Then I started having chest pains and becoming physically ill from the stress. I decided I could no longer stay in that position. So I started doing photography full time. I earned much less pay, but also had much less stress—a trade I’d take anytime. And since I now created my own schedule, I could find time to garden again.

Oh, how I’d missed it. It was the return of a dear old friend! I planted a raised bed of tomatoes and had so many that I taught myself how to can them so they wouldn’t go to waste. Cooking what I grew became another aspect of gardening I came to love and appreciate. Nothing tastes so good as fresh food from your own garden, from a plant you grew with your own two hands!

Now gardening touches almost every aspect of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And last Fall I was able to put up a greenhouse—my very own greenhouse! Just writing that word makes me well up with emotion. So many years I’d longed for the quiet solitude of morning watering and the smell of flowers and warm, wet dirt. Now, at last, I have it—even in Winter. For me, my greenhouse is a sanctuary, a chapel, a world away from hustle and bustle. It’s a place where I get to practice dirt therapy, where Mother Nature works her magic and I get to help.

It’s more than a safe space for plants.

It—like all of gardening—is a safe space for me.


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