Planting a Garden of Healing

Planting a garden of healing doesn't come with a blueprint, you only need to follow your heart to determine what will lighten your emotional load.

Gardening comes with so many mental health benefits because it can bring us closer to Earth when we feel like we might have floated away and feel lost. Some people intentionally plant a garden of healing. I’ve ready many stories on GreenPrints of those who have planted memory gardens, whether it’s by a favorite color, favorite plants, or sprouts from bulbs and divisions from the backyards of long-gone friends. When we choose the flowers, plants, and vegetables that will make up a garden of healing, we select the materials that will heal both ourselves and our environment.

When you plant a garden of healing, you can reap all the pleasure of creating something beautiful while building connections with nature along the way. Not only do flowers provide a stunning display of color, they can also attract beneficial wildlife and nourish pollinators, which can also be healing to witness outside your window or while you’re working in the garden. I once had a family of bunnies hop right up to me while I was working in the garden. I couldn’t help but throw them some fresh lettuce their way (and hope they wouldn’t come back when the carrots were ready!).

Following the death of her beloved husband, Marty, the author of today’s story “Garden of Solace”, Julie V. Foley was struggling to cope with grief and had left holiday decorations up well into March. The fourth nor’easter in three weeks caused Julie to take matters into her own hands and use a cordless reciprocating saw to cut down seven huge mounds of grass down to six inches each. As she worked on the last mound, tiny green shoots were sprouting up through the stalks–a sign that Spring would come again despite all odds. After washing away tears from her face and arranging tulips as an act of self-care, Julie was ready for healing by planning out what would become her garden of healing for this season. Continue reading to get the full story, which I know you’ll enjoy.

Enjoy More Stories of Healing Gardens

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years, and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn stories of healing gardens into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Garden of Solace

And anger. And healing.

By Julie V. Foley

For most gardeners, Winter is a time of rest, planning, and anticipation. After the holidays are over and the decorations stowed, we rest for a few days. Then the mailbox is stuffed with colorful catalogs, and we begin thinking about the next gardening season.

For me, though, this Winter was different—so different. Marty, my beloved husband, passed away on December 29. The fog of grief caused me to leave decorations up well into March. Christmas cards sat unread. Back-to-back nor’easters bombarded our—now, my—home here in Pennsylvania’s Poconos. The weather stayed harsh even into March, which had come in like a lion and was going to stay one.

Friends who had gone through similar loss counseled me, telling me to let my anger go. But I didn’t have any anger—not at Marty for leaving me, not at the medical professionals who tried their best to save him, certainly not at God. Just sadness, profound sadness! How could I not be sad after losing Marty and 53-1/2 years of a wonderful marriage? Marty was my “bestest” friend, my “garden grunt,” and the most patient man in the world. I once shouted “Stop!” as we were driving along a Colorado road. Marty screeched to a halt—and I jumped out of the car!

“Julie! Are you all right?” My frantic husband called.

“I’m fine,” I yelled back. “I just spotted a clump of Indian paintbrush. I’ve never seen real Indian paintbrush, only pictures in books.”

Marty didn’t say a word. He just shook his head and smiled his wonderful ear-to-ear grin.

The weatherman was predicting that the fourth nor’easter in three weeks was about to hit. More snow?! I decided to drive down to the local flower shop—while I still could—and treat myself to a bunch of tulips. Sure enough, Jennifer had lots of red, white, and yellow tulips. I splurged and bought some of each.

But when I got home, I did not race inside. Instead I sat in the car, staring at the huge piles of snow all around the house and driveway. I especially glared at the ornamental grasses that were sticking out like unruly haystacks in the unkempt field. So much for what landscapers call Winter interest! Winter interest, my foot! The seedheads were bent and broken. Brown leaves driven by the wind were scattered all through them. They looked as broken as I felt.

I don’t remember going into the garage. But suddenly I was wielding my cordless reciprocating saw at the base of each mound of grass. I sliced through the frozen stalks like a medieval knight with a sharp sword. Chunks of snow and frozen earth flew up at me. The wind blew cuttings into blueberry bushes at the edge of the woods. I hadn’t even considered wearing gloves and safety glasses. I wanted the dead grass gone! I wanted this long Winter to end. I wanted some peace in my broken heart.

The saw stuck in the middle of one clump. It made me fume as I yanked to pull the blade free.

I gathered pieces of severed grass by the armful, barely feeling the scratches from the rough grass edges as I carried and dumped them in the woods. Before I knew it, I had cut seven huge mounds of grass down to six inches each.

As I cleaned up the last mound, I saw that, despite the wild weather, tiny green shoots were sprouting up through the stalks. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Sleep had eluded me for weeks; fatigue was my constant companion. But no! The little blades of grass were real! Soft, beautiful, full of hope—hope and the promise that Spring would come indeed!

Once I was back in the house, I washed my dirty, tear-stained face. I arranged the tulips. And I gave thanks that the anger I hadn’t recognized was within me had been released.

Exhausted, I plopped down into my chair to read my first garden catalog of the season—and plan my much-needed garden of healing.

By Julie V. Foley, published originally in 2018-19, in GreenPrints Issue #116. Illustrated by Christina Hess

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Does this story remind you of one of your own? Have you planted your own garden of healing? Leave a comment and share it with us!

  • Dianne O.

    I knew Julie’s husband Marty — a loving, generous man and her true partner. And it’s true: he aided and abetted her garden passions with much laughter. My husband took down a ragged porch the year he died, and now it’s my own garden of healing – herbs, veggies and flowers. Each year the sage, oregano and fennel return; I plant new basil and tomatoes — and the late summer Mediterranean feast beckons.

  • It’s amazing how our gardens can bring out even the deepest hidden emotions. Grief is one of the reasons I started gardening. Working through the complexity of emotions that build during different seasons of our lives can be tricky. Always, the earth and the miracles that emerge throughout the gardening season can be healing. A stubborn weed can open up anger that we had suppressed and pulling it releases feelings and realization we may need to revisit the experience and grieve a different way.
    Great article! Love reading such tender stories.


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