GARDENING IS A restorative act grounded in natural rhythms and constancy. Thank goodness! I’m not a doctor or a mental health expert. I’m a gardener. But I know from years of plotting and planting the many ways my garden tends me as I care for it. So, I thought I’d share a little unsolicited but heartfelt advice:
• Plant seeds. Nearly every gardener I know has a stash of leftover seed from previous growing seasons. Plant them. This isn’t about producing a crop of cosmos or lettuce, which also would be lovely and delicious (respectively). This is about cultivating optimism and witnessing germination and growth.
• Tend to your spaces. Sweep your pathways, and clean out the fountain. Put out fresh birdseed, and watch the wonky, wavy flight of bushtits as they flock to the feeder.
• Pull weeds. Nature revels in wanton abundance that sometimes verges on chaos. Excess is baked into resilience and continuity — survival itself — a powerful force that anyone who’s dealt with a dandelion-pocked lawn can attest to. We humans typically prefer at least some small measure of control, however fleeting that might be in a garden. My husband loves to “burn weeds” (God bless him). Wielding his weed torch, basically a small propane tank with a long crooked nozzle, he slowly walks our paths and driveway like a contemplative monk, lost in the Zen of restoring the gravel to a clean slate — for now. Me? Nothing calms me more than clipping my boxwoods into tidy spheres: anchoring orbs of structure scattered among my very informal beds and borders.
• Be amazed. Kneel down, and marvel at the intricate markings on a tulip. Is it any wonder that fortunes were once traded for such botanical beauties? Oh, and while you’re on your knees: Now is a good time to put out nontoxic bait to manage marauding slugs and snails that proliferate in the cool and damp conditions of a spring garden.
• Look closely. Bend over, and examine your garden’s foot soldiers for hidden charms and beauty. Stachys byzantina, commonly known as lamb’s ears, is as close to a botanical hug as you’ll ever get. Low-growing tuffets of velvety, silver-grey leaves spread to form a cushy carpet that softens hard edges, blurs boundaries and glows in the moonlight. This easy-to-grow plant flourishes in dry to medium well-drained soil in full sun. Don’t fuss with fertilizing; overly rich soil encourages weak growth. Wooly spires of pale pink flowers that appear in summer are frankly not this plant’s strong suit. The cultivar ‘Countess Helene Von Stein’, sometimes labeled ‘Big Ears’ (makes you wonder about the Countess, no?), has large lush leaves and rarely blooms. I grow ‘Primrose Heron’, a plant whose silvered leaves age to a sumptuous chartreuse with gold highlights. It never flowers.
• Engage kids. Children love petting the soft furry leaves of the aptly named lamb’s ears, and this tough little plant is resilient enough to withstand picking. Play. Explore. And while you’re outside letting off steam with the littles, pinch mint, nibble chives and otherwise investigate the “hidden” fragrance and flavors of common garden herbs. They’ll think you’re a wizard.
• Practice generosity. Spring is a good time to dig and divide perennials, a botanical multiplication trick that revives tired, crowded clumps and yields new plants — for free! Give extra plants to your neighbors. Seeing echoes of a familiar catmint, hosta or daylily in the neighborhood in years to come will remind us of this strange moment in time when we shared unstintingly — at an appropriate social distance, of course.