Care and Feeding of the Gardener’s Soul

red tub/rake

I will never forget the moment I heard Oprah say to a guest who was speaking about gardening, “I don’t understand what kind of exercise you can get by gardening. What is there to do?” HAHAHA. What??? I wanted to write to her immediately and say, “Oprah, spend a day with me in my garden and I will show you a workout!” Oddly, it’s not thought about in those terms. As physically demanding as gardening can be and usually is, the general focus on gardening is on what we are planting, when and how, not on the bodies who are performing those what/when/how activities. In reality, you know and I know that gardening is a challenging athletic endeavor with great rewards for our bodies. But also some perils and pitfalls if we stop listening. And this last post I did, reviewing some basic yoga poses that would assist the gardener in her practice, brought in some comments and email that made me realize how much we all have in common when it comes to gardening: We Aren’t There. We are lost in the zone, that seductive, all-encompassing passionate drive of creative vision and doing. What we seem to have in common is an experience of being completely absorbed in manifesting our various visions of beauty and creativity. We simply expect our bodies to be natural extensions of that vision, which seems to have no edges, or limits or sense of time. We override stretching and resting. We barely take time to pee. You know it’s true. Because we are lost, hopelessly, in the beauty of flow and design and manifestation in nature. There is no other place we want to be. Nothing else we want to be doing. Nothing else we want to hear or see or touch or smell. We are enraptured with the Universe, with the Greenest of Goddesses. With Pan himself. I know you know what I’m talking about.
Green Man mask
Courtesy of artist Marsha Mello

The focus that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

Dylan Thomas

Then the next day we get up and we are perhaps a bit creeky. Or stiff or sore. Or we ache. Especially at this time of year, I find. And we think the magical formula is to do it all over again.

A few years ago, strangely just as Grandma was nudging herself towards the edge of the Earth, I was unexpectedly offered an opportunity to be a contributing writer for a book being published in London called The Financial Times Guide to Business Travel. What it turned out that I could best contribute was practical advice on staying healthy on the road, drawing on my multiple decades in Northern California, a rather progressive island of health conscious folks completely comfortable with all manner of alternative healing modalities. Today I’d like to tap into that wealth of knowledge and share a bit with you, for you to consider incorporating into your daily practices to enhance your gardening experiences even more, by taking care of the very vehicle that allows you that blessed luxury.

We’ve rather covered yoga, if you refer to the previous post. Since writing that, I have chosen the spot where I’m going to have my Handy Man build me a little wooden deck where I can practice yoga daily out of doors. I realize it’s more precious that way. I’ve elected a place I have been fond of as it catches the earliest morning sun’s rays, just adjacent to the rose arbor, not yet in bloom, but here’s what the arbor looked like last summer:
Rose Arbor

Can you imagine what it will be like once I’m lying there doing my final relaxation pose, looking up at the big blue California sky through those large red roses spilling across that old arbor? Wow. So that’s my plan. Build a space.

I think I very much like the idea of stretching beforehand, yoga or not. We do it for running and walking, right? Why not gardening? It makes sense. And I personally want to try to build perhaps a five minute stretch break periodically into my gardening. Maybe I will take this funny little black and white hen I bought to time stuff in the oven, which I have used all of one time, out into the garden and just let her ring me to a stretch break. Why not? It has its charm.

Are you all pretty good about keeping bottles of water around when you are out in the yard? I have to admit, I still have to work on this. When I do rehydrate, if it’s hot I choose something like SmartWater, as it will give me back the electrolites I’m losing. I never drink Gatorade. I can’t believe they tell you it’s good for you. See the color? Think oil products. Here are the ingredients for Gatorade Raspberry Lemonade: water, sucrose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, ester gum, sucrose acetate isobutyrate, red 40, blue 1. Are you kidding me? Please.

Now, comfy clothes and shoes. I bet you all do that really well by now. Right? If you’ve read me for any length of time you know already that I frequently can be found totally comfy in the early mornings gardening either in private out back or in public out front in my pajama bottoms and a sweater and scarf. I do. And usually I have on appropriate footwear, like those rubber gardening shoes you will remember the name of and I don’t, because I have some wannabe version. Or boots. Not flipflops as they will not protect my feet from chill or bugs or the straying mean plant that can stick me. Gloves? I know; gloves are tough. Some-times I do; sometimes I don’t. I love my hands in the actual dirt. I absolutely do wear them for any place where I could get pricked (leather for roses and black-berries) or bitten (we have black widows).

I am religious about sunscreen. Are you? I hope so. I’m not as good at the hat, though I certainly have no excuse as I own them. I even put one on a hook in the hall that leads out back. Maybe this year I will grab it on the way out. Why do I think they get in the way?

I wonder if we could start a little picnic/snacky thing we could do for ourselves? Because you know once you are in the thick of the Green Zone you are not going to go in and make a sandwich, are you? I thought not. Yesterday I was examining those wonderful picnic baskets that have everything you need inside, but I know that’s hoping for too much. (I was thinking more Earthquake in looking at those anyway. I thought that when the Big One comes I could maybe be surviving with a touch of class. You have to admit it would be convenient.)

And what in the world are we going to do about the reaching beyond our bodies’ means? Like the woman in Portland who wrote to me last week and said she lifted too much compost. This is going to be just a task we each face on our own, that perhaps begins with, “Do I perhaps need some help?” Asking for help is a good thing. Learning to receive is a good thing. Yes, you, Superwoman.

OK, so the sun is setting, hubby is coming home for dinner, whatever. You have to go in and shift gears. You’ve gotten a lot done today, you realize, as you look around with satisfaction, making a mental note on what you will do tomorrow. (I know The List.)

I personally don’t know if I can get myself to then do some kind of cooldown afterward, but maybe you can. I know I am headed straight for a bath after getting dirty. I just am. And it’s going to have bath oil in the water, probably lavender to get me to relax. If I’ve been exposed to pollens I’m going to choose eucalyptus oil. And bath salts, even if it’s Epsom. Also, there is something to consider about baths vs. showers. When you bathe you immediately begin to rehydrate. And there is nothing like soaking. Just a thought. I know you have your preference etched in stone.

OK, bath toys. Fingernail brush. Found the best one at a little drug store, cheapo and one of my favorite bath accessories. Pumice stone for those drying feet. Loofah or body brush for the skin. And I just love good cotton washcloths. They do the trick. Dry off. Moisturize. Now here’s the thing I particularly wanted to tell you about. There is a homeopathic remedy called arnica gel. I know about it because when my daughter was still little I ran the language program for a Waldorf School and we always had it around for kids who bumped or bruised themselves. You can get it in the health food store. I’m telling you right here. I could not make it without arnica gel. It has saved my back a billion times. I just rub it into any muscles where I know I’ve unduly placed too much stress, right after the warm bath. I also look myself over and put it on any little bruise, which will accelerate the healing process. We all get bruised in the garden pushing things around. And in the morning I’m right as rain.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely make it a priority to get enough sleep. I need minimum of eight hours. I consider it one of the cornerstones of my good health. In the evening, in preparation for that precious restoral, I lower all the lights in my house and turn off all but the most necessary ones and have a nice cup of chamomile tea. Ahhhh. Nice. Ready for the good night’s sleep and a blessed new day.
apple blossoms

‘Till soon,
Kathryn xoxo

22 Responses to “Care and Feeding of the Gardener’s Soul”

  1. It sounds like you have a very healthy and restorative regime. 🙂

  2. Hi, Nancy,

    Thanks for stopping by. I am working on it! I think once the deck is in and I’m back to my yoga practice it will be even better! Kathryn

  3. Why do I feel you are speaking just to me, Kathryn … I always have the best ”prep’ intentions before hopping into the garden but somehow the garden’s haunting voice calls stronger. I especially love overcast, misty days … perfect for weeding, digging and dividing. Like magic, gray days turns garden dreams to technicolor and once started, I can’t stop. Daylight melds into evening … hours miraculously disappear . Perhaps the simple fact of feeding our souls is why we neglect bodily functions (like food, water and yes even peeing). Whatever … I know I need my fingernail brush in the shower and often Brillo pads for the creases in my knees. I love arnica gel! Thanks for the great post. Hugs …

  4. Joey–I think you are on to something. Yes, we are feeding at the Heavenly Trough, aren’t we? And the more I think about this and read other gardening bloggers, the more I become aware of an archetypal experience we all share. And I haven’t even begun to question how this taps into the old agricultural Gatherer Soul Memory. But I’m sure I will! 🙂 Kathryn xoxo

  5. Kathryn,

    Lovely and informative. I’ve seen arnica gel, but never used it. I will now try it on your advice. I also have another one: Tiger Balm Patches. They are made in Singapore, and I believe they are all natural. I also use their balm, but the patches are wonderful on my aching back.

    I love the idea of doing a.m. yoga stretching on the deck. I will try that too as soon as it warms up again.

    Thank you for all of your beautiful words and pictures. They soothe me.~~Dee

  6. Hi, Dee! I use Tiger Balm but had never used Tiger Balm Patches. I will have to check those out next time I’m in the health food store. Thanks. I’m glad you are up for yoga. I find that if I have others I know doing yoga it helps me stay on track. I also think it’s going to make a difference to have the designated area. Good that you have a ready made deck! I will imagine you out there in the mornings… Kathryn xox

  7. Hey Kathryn, I tagged you on my blog for 10 random things about yourself.~~Dee

  8. Further evidence of reasons you’re one of my heroines Kathryn. Beautifully told and beautifully reasoned.

  9. Very well done article Kathryn, with some good, timely reminders. I like how you described getting lost in ‘the zone’ where we lose all track of time and our bodies, as we become one with our gardens in those wonderful zen moments.

    Very colorful and pretty prayer flags. They seem to be making their appearance in quite a few gardens, windows, and doorways in this area lately.

  10. Oh, dear, Dee! I have never been tagged before. I will have to learn what I do now! Thanks. I guess. 🙂
    Kathryn xoxo

  11. Dear David, I’m really touched by your comment this morning. Thank you so very much. Kathryn xoxo

  12. Hi, Linda, Welcome. Yes, there is someone in NY, I believe, who started a movement for folks to hang Tibetan prayer flags in their gardens in solidarity for the Tibetan people. It is the least we can do. I’m glad to hear you are seeing them, too. Warmly, Kathryn

  13. You express yourself beautifully. I so agree how good for the mind and body is gardening. Your photograhy is stunning. I love the prayer flags. The red bucket is the perfect touch. It really makes the photograph zing. I love how it carries the red of the camellia. it also tells a story. It is a wonderful joyus comment on work and hope. Beautiful.
    I would very much honored you would look at my blog. I write about good garden tools, trends in gardens and classic design. Let me know what you think.

  14. Hello, Philip, Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments. I will surely visit. Warmly, Kathryn

  15. Kathryn, this whole post is so nicely done, but I found your first paragraph about getting into the Green Zone absolutely marvelous. You could not have said it better. You’re right, this is a true joy of gardening, and it always astonishes me to see how the hours have flown while I was digging, dividing, or just mulling over the possibilities.

  16. Isn’t it astounding, Pam? LOL! I can’t believe no one is writing about it! We need a book! Kathryn

  17. Sleep I must have. I skip the sunscreen. Never used it. I know, I’m bad. Fifty-one years old and no sunscreen. But then I rarely use moisturizer either. My oldest daughter is 33 and scolds me all the time. But then she’s angry because she thinks I have better skin, so she goes and gets Botox! I’m just a natural gal. But I will leave you with this suggestion: I have had a bad back since I was in my twenties. For the past eleven years, I have been waking up, doing the same series of stretching exercises, then going about my day, usually in the garden. At the end of the day before my second shower (which relaxes me), I do the twenty minute stretching exercises again. So when I go outside, I’m already stretched! And when I go to bed, I also am. It has worked for me! I learned them from a sports doctor in San Antonio. If I can’t stretch, I feel tight and that doesn’t work for me.

  18. As I read your reminders, I was rather astonished to realize that I take quite good care of myself. What a hoot! I was also surprised that even though I do not consider myself a gardener, I do get into a ‘zone’ when out digging and puttering in the gardens and yard. I also get very much into a zone while mulling over possibilities, as someone above said.

    Thanks so much for your lovely blog.

    CurtissAnn Matlock

  19. Brenda, hello! First, I noticed you have added Plant Whatever Brings You Joy to your blogroll. Thank you so much! As for the stretching I *highly* recommend that you take the next step and explore yoga, Brenda. You are already half way there and I predict you would LOVE it! Do check out the AM PM Yoga cd with hunky, lovely Rodney Yee. (Why not?) Kathryn oxoox

  20. Welcome, CurtissAnn! Thank you for visiting! Sounds like you have all the makings of being a avid gardener. May she take flight. Meanwhile I will check out Sweet Dreams. I love Southern fiction!

  21. Outside is such a wonderful place to do yoga. The area next to the arbor looks perfect.

    Jan Always Growing

  22. Hi, Jan, thanks for the encouragement! Kathryn

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