by Jenny Peterson
I come from a family of gardeners. I’m a garden designer, and I write and speak about gardens as well. So it might seem natural that after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, I reached for my garden to help me through it.
Except, in the beginning, I didn’t. I was so shocked at how my surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation impacted me with nerve damage, lymphedema, and the mood roller coaster that at first, I was kind of frozen and stayed inside. But little by little, I began to hear my garden calling to me — and my fiancé, Brett, reinforced that call with gentle shoves out the back door. When he surprised me by building a yoga deck for me in the backyard after I’d completed treatment, that sealed the deal, and my relationship with my garden changed forever.
And I thought, “If I’m feeling this way after my treatment, I know there are many other people out there who have the same struggles.” And as a writer and a speaker, words are very important to me, so I wrote a book called “The Cancer Survivor’s Garden Companion: Cultivating Hope, Healing & Joy in the Ground Beneath Your Feet.” I wanted everyone to know that there is a deep well of healing outside your own back door — you may not have cancer, but I’ll bet you’ve experienced stress, grief, depression, anxiety, or illness.
Today, I practice yoga and meditation on the yoga deck, surrounded by a lush tropical garden. I have urban farm animals that I take care of and visit during breaks from work. I grow herbs for food and aromatherapy. I have a vegetable garden and a fig tree that contribute to my wellness. I have houseplants that clean my air and soften the rooms of my house with their greenery. Parts of my garden are beautiful and other parts are works in progress, while still other areas are downright ugly. I have a normal garden — it’s a garden for me, not a showcase for others.
If you are experiencing life troubles and challenges – and who isn’t? – let your garden help you to find that balance and healing. Your garden doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, a little imperfection reminds you that life keeps going on despite mistakes, problems, and unfinished projects. Our gardens show us that nature works to maintain balance, that death is a part of the cycle of life, and that beauty can be found anywhere you look.
Start slow, ask for help, and learn as you go — and through whatever life throws at you, keep gardening. Sow some seeds, plant some herbs, pot up some colorful flowers, start a plant collection. Cultivate hope and healing with your garden leading the way — the rewards are profound.