SUZETTE BIRRELL IS a mother and a grandmother. Also, for the past 17 years as a pre- and postnatal yoga instructor, she’s helped new moms navigate a precious, profound and sometimes-chaotic period of life.
Birrell is also an ardent gardener. She believes it’s all connected. “Gardening and nurturing is the same thing,” she says. “Tending and touching is good for the human race.”
Yoga teaches us to show up in the moment, get out of our head. Breathe. Stretch. Grow. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised: “Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” See where I’m going here?
There might be no better practice for growing — ourselves, our children and our communities — than to make a garden. Both parenting and gardens require constancy, care and patience, sometimes to the point of tedium and fatigue. “The expense, the heartache,” Birrell adds to my list — qualifications that apply equally to raising a family and tending a garden.
But the rewards are unbounded: fresh air, delicious flavors, exercise and beauty. Gardens are good for our health and our heart.
Birrell grew up in the Puget Sound area and remembers picking raspberries as a young girl with her grandparents in their garden in Kent. Today, her own grandchildren look forward to time spent clambering around, digging in and harvesting from Nana and Boppa’s abundant garden bursting with flowers and fresh, healthy food. “They get the most excited when the berries are ripe,” Birrell, aka Nana, notes.
Birrell and her husband, Jim, have been making a garden on their property on the hill above Carkeek Park for 22 years. Birrell sees gardening as a way of being: a personal pursuit for herself, her family and invited guests. She doesn’t follow a grand plan but is always exploring new plants, gently orchestrating colors and compositions. She’s active in several regional garden communities and committed to constantly expanding her body of knowledge. Conscientious of conditions that our kids and grandkids will face, Birrell tracks shifts in her garden related to a changing climate.
Generosity grows in Birrell’s garden, alongside an abundance of choice perennials, woody shrubs and delicious food. I met Birrell years ago, when she was a loyal customer at Fremont Gardens, my tiny nursery that closed in 2008. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to visit her garden several times in various seasons. On one such walk through her woodland garden, I exclaimed over Viburnum lantana ‘Variegatum’, a beautiful shrub with long fleshy leaves variegated in tones of green and gold. A year later, out of the blue, Birrell gave me a rooted cutting from her plant; her gift lives on in my garden and my heart.
Gardening is an ongoing generational pursuit in the Birrell family. Daughter Emilee, mother of those lucky grandkids, tends her own ornamental and edible plots nearby. “We take turns helping each other on sunny weekends with weeding and planting,” Birrell says. “Jim and Emilee are forever in a veggie competition: whose is bigger, whose crop is earliest. But they always buy two when they discover a new vegetable, so they can share.”
Birrell routinely distributes garden bouquets to her neighbors. “We feel best when we give,” she says. Every week, year-round, she brings samples of whatever is blooming in her garden into the yoga studio. “Funny thing,” she shares: “I discovered the studio owner’s aunt once owned Saxe Floral. I told them it was karma that I ended up teaching here.”
Birrell celebrates every birth, every season and each new bloom: a generous life spent tending new moms, new babies and new plants.