Gardening did not interest me until I bought my first home. Once I had my own house with front and backyards, that began to change. Many first-time homeowners must feel the way I felt; the joyous freedom of making the property become an expression of self!
The purchase of my home coincided with my tight friendship with Linda, my beloved surrogate mother and avid DIYer who had encouraged me to buy my own home in the first place. She was always doing some kind of home improvement project; from designing her own kitchen counter design to laying paver edgings and walkways in her yard. She walked me through each step of the home-buying process, based on her experience as a mortgage broker (retired), and, once I had my house, was with me every step of the way to prepare for my move in. She vacuumed and shampooed the carpeted rooms and steam-mopped the tile floors while I cleaned and painted kitchen cabinets.
So, I was in the mode of home improvement when suddenly, within a two month period, Linda passed away from a newly discovered cancer diagnosis. That’s when my gardening began. My grief overwhelmed me so much that I could not cry or talk or write or compose music, all things that had always come naturally to me.
So I went into my yards alone, which were nothing but horribly dry Florida sand buried in dead oak leaves, dead trees, dead bushes, and I began to dig in the dirt. I pulled out the dead debris and created a compost heap in my backyard. I cut out the intricately complex, strongly resistant live oak tree roots from the surface of my front yard to dig open new spaces for young plants.
As I worked, it was poignantly symbolic of my grief; shock to the ground, shock to the plants, shock to my heart. Plunging tools in angry bursts toward the hard soil revealed gaps as wide as the hole of sorrow exploding from my heart.
I had a huge, empty canvas of a lawn with which to paint my grief. Ripping out holes in the lawn was cathartic and allowed me to feel my loss. The tedious, time-consuming process of cutting through oak tree roots to dig new places for plants was physically grueling as I twisted my hips, legs, neck and arms to access the barriers; perfect for what I was feeling emotionally.
The pain in my heart found its way into the ground with every new attempt to grow my garden. Being outdoors allowed the pain to breathe and began to draw my spiritual connection to the afterlife. The process synced with years of buried grief from the loss of my younger brother, who had died in a car accident in 2004, pulling me more and more into the spiritual dimension of the natural world.
As my dear brother was a huge nature lover, my gardening began to shift from pain and anger toward becoming my personal tribute to our bond and to honor my friendship with Linda. Trashing the dead debris and carving ground holes led to more deliberate research on what plants would best grow in Florida conditions. Gutting out weeds, like clearing my heart of anger and denial, left new visions for growth.
Daily devotion to my garden chores morphed into educating myself on Florida friendly plants, and what soil and sun conditions would successfully work in my yards. I began to plan my garden as a xeroscaped park, with plants that would be happy to take care of themselves once established. My grief has transformed into creating beauty as I envision the future progression of my garden.
My garden has nurtured and embraced me. It has taught me that some seeds fail while others survive, “winter always turns into spring*”, the cycle of life and death, and that our existence is eternal, as is my internal bond with loved ones beyond this world. My garden represents my love and my personal revolution to create value from my own suffering. Who knew that gardening could be all that?
*quote from Nichiren Daishonin, 13th century Buddhist monk
All photos on this website by Jenny Leigh Hodgins © 2015-16