The Magic of Metaphors: Care Instructions for Our Gardens and Our Lives Part 1 of 3

One of the many gifts I’ve received from my passion for gardening has been experiencing how the consistency, patience, observation, and resilience needed for growing a thriving garden has also been such a great teacher for what is needed to create a rich and rewarding life. 

For many of us, gardening has been a constant in our lives, and nurturing our gardens and our lives are inexplicably intertwined. The practices and metaphors for growing a flourishing garden and a life that nourishes us are boundless.

The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to
pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness
that the love of a garden gives.

- Gertrude Jekyll

A healthy, life-giving garden requires a fertile foundation, plenty of light, water, nutrients, and consistent care — many of the elements needed for creating a vibrant and prosperous life. How we approach tending to our gardens and our lives determines the experience we have and the bounty we receive.

laptop on outdoor table with journal and pen

I like to think about “the tending” as ‘The Care Instructions for My Garden and My Life’. Every garden and every life is unique and you will have your own ‘care instructions’, but I have found there are elements and practices that each garden and each life needs to create the conditions for thriving.

Element for Thriving #1:
Cultivate a Fertile Foundation

To nurture an environment that supports healthy growth and sustains us through times when conditions and circumstances are not ideal, we need to have nutrient-rich, fertile soil, loosely surrounding the seeds in our garden and in our lives. This will strengthen the roots and the root ball that is our community.

Enrich the soil in your garden and in your life, encouraging
new growth, new ideas, and new partnerships to take root. 
Garden rock with flowers that says "BE"

Invest the time and energy to create a comfortable, and calm environment — an enjoyable and safe space you can retreat to — a place where you can “be” outdoors, where you can create beauty in your garden, and welcome the people who love, support and sustain you. are elements and practices that each garden and each life needs to create the conditions for thriving.

I create nutrient-rich garden beds and containers with these three organic products:

  1. Start every plant in your garden off right with Sure Start by E. B. Stone. It is a must-have natural organic fertilizer  formulated to help newly transplanted babies develop strong roots and sturdy growth. It’s always in my toolshed.
  2. If you haven’t been utilizing earthworm castings as a soil amendment yet, start today. You won’t believe the difference this superpower will make in the overall health of your garden. My favorite brand is Wiggle Worm Earthworm Castings and just so you know, that’s worm poop I’m talkin’ about; making it nature’s original soil amendment. 
  3. Shade loving plants like camellias, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, ferns, azaleas, and gardenias love Espoma Soil Acidifier an all natural and high purity mineral. It lowers the pH of soils and helps acid loving plants achieve optimum growth. This is what you use to turn your hydrangeas blue. 

I enRICH my life by …

Yoge Therapy Logo
Insight Peace in Our Time logo
Toni Gattone on Zoom
  1. Even as challenging the pandemic has been, it’s provided unexpected ‘silver linings’ in many shapes and sizes. Two, that have had a positive and lasting impact for me were finding yoga classes online that were just right for my level and strength. The other was beginning a yoga practice with my husband, Tim, right in our family room. Tim was a yoga newbie until we had to shelter in place and now he loves it. One of our favorite teachers is Lindsey Samper on Amazon Prime. Her focus on back pain, neck pain, and stress has been so helpful for me after spending long hours in front of my computer screen. 
  1. It took me seven decades to make a daily meditation practice a priority, but as a result, I’m calmer, less reactive, and my overall mood is enhanced and on most days uplifted.

My best days begin with an Insight Timer meditation, because their selection of topics, courses, and teachers are varied and vast, and there’s a topic or focus that’s just right for where I’m at each day.

  1. I’m also in the habit now of winding down at the end of a long day with sleep stories on the Calm App. The travel stories are Tim’s and my favorites. We visit far away places, all around the world without ever getting on a plane, and we love their new travel playlists. It’s a great way to turn off the brain from our busy lives and helps me drift off to sleep in a settled and more peaceful way.

[BONUS] Our healthcare provider, Kaiser Permanente pays for our subscription. Maybe yours will too.

  1. Enjoying our ‘Sunday La Famiglia Zoom Call’ with my two sisters, our three cousins, and usually several of our beautiful nieces drops by to say hello, definitely enriches my life and is something we look forward to each week. What do we talk about every week? That’s easy … everything under the sun! Admittedly, a good amount of time we discuss our health issues, procedures, or meds we’re on … the usual subjects for people our age.

The joy of being Italian, we inevitably come back to our families, our memories, and the people who raised us. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 50’s and 60’s, ours was a pretty normal childhood. We laugh a lot about how our Zoom calls remind us of our Sundays when we were kids, when there was always a reason to be together… somebody’s birthday, graduation, wedding, baby shower, First Holy Communion, and all the holidays. Our family calls provide connection, comfort, lots of laughter and are a highlight of my week.

Toni Gattone and friends gather on Zoom for some good times

Element for Thriving #2:
Balance the Energy of Sunlight with the Restoration of Shade

To not just survive, but thrive, all plants require light for photosynthesis to occur, the process that converts light, oxygen, and water into energy. This is the energy that produces healthy growth, beautiful blooms, and ultimately new seeds for continued growth. I like to think of plant leaves as solar panels, capturing light that helps the plant grow and thrive.

To flourish, plants, gardens, yards, and forests also need the right balance of light and shade. Too much sunlight can deplete the hydration of a plant and natural environment — and too much shade doesn’t provide the light needed to synthesize and transform the energy of sunlight into a healthy, happy plant.

balanced rocks with grass in the background

We can learn a lot about creating a life where we’re whole, healthy, and thriving by noticing and appreciating what we experience season after season in our gardens. We too need to be out in nature and in the sunshine to increase our vibrancy and lower our stress. Study upon study shows that taking in Vitamin D and soaking up sunlight is an excellent way to enhance our sense of wellbeing and increase our resilience. Immersing ourselves in nature each day supports our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual health, and we can create the experience that feels just right for our energy level, abilities, and the time we have.

Being in nature can be like a therapy session,
but without the therapist.

What I love about the metaphor of the energy of sunlight and the restoration of shade is that in our culture we do-do-do.  We’re good at being “human “doings” and don’t tend to value the “being” in our humanness.  The restoration that comes from walking through nature in the sunshine and lingering in the shade reminds me that to maintain balance, we must rest … we must step out of the doingness to restore, replenish, and refuel.

Sunlight poking through a tree

When we are in direct sunlight, our bodies take in vitamin D, which is a critical nutrient our bodies need for building healthy bones. Maintaining the proper vitamin D levels protects us against disease, optimizes our physical performance, and improves our mental health. 

Monrovia nursery logo

According to the Monrovia Nursery Company, “Gardens are becoming so much more than just beautiful spaces. They’re now a place for socializing, relaxation, or a space to recharge. A recent survey from Monrovia found that more than 35% of homeowners feel that gardening is good for their mental health and well-being. That connection between mental health and gardening is a developing wellness garden trend.”

And if you needed any more convincing about how good our gardens are for our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, Princeton University  published a study about their research that home gardening is basically the answer to society’s ills.

Element for Thriving #3:
Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Drought is a reality and can no longer be ignored. I’m experiencing the consequences in my own backyard. This is true not only for most Californians but is also happening in many other parts of our country and around the world. Because these are the conditions for the foreseeable future, we as gardeners are part of the solution and have a responsibility to find ways to conserve our precious water supply.

A few of the ways I’ve integrated water conservation in my garden include: installing drip irrigation to target water at the roots of the plant to avoid overhead watering, and planting native plants that require much less water once they’re established. I also dig compost into the soil to help retain moisture, along with adding  2” – 4” of mulch to reduce evaporation. Creating hydrozones with plants that have similar requirements for watering is another great strategy for making the most of every drop of water that we use in our gardens.

To learn more about drip irrigation and how you can easily create a convenient and custom snip-and-drip system for your garden, check out Gardener’s Supply Company for their videos and related articles.

native backyards logo

If you’d like to learn more about the plants that are native in your area, check out the How to Find Native Plants Near Me blog post on the NativeBackyards.com website.

native plants near me social media screenshot

And for more information about how to water efficient hydrozones in your own garden, the Water Conservation for Lawn and Landscape Community website has loads of helpful resources, including a blog, with links to additional info on How to Group Plants into Hydrozones.

Landscape gardening plans
Grouping plants into hydrozones is an approach to irrigation and planting design where plants with similar sun and water needs are grouped together.

And just as with our gardens, it’s imperative that we drink plenty of clean water throughout our day, to keep ourselves hydrated, to support our good health. If possible, we should also find ways to take time out to ‘soak our roots’ by doing things like getting a mud bath, taking a sauna, relaxing in Jacuzzi,  or soaking in a long, hot bath. We can also keep our joints lubricated with consistent yoga practice and daily walking.

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid
than you take in, and your body doesn't have enough
water to carry out its normal functions. If you don't replace
lost fluids, you will get dehydrated. This condition is
especially dangerous for younger children and older adults.

- Mayo Clinic

Remember, as we age, our body’s fluid reserve becomes smaller, our ability to conserve water is reduced and our thirst sense becomes less acute. These conditions are compounded when we experience chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia, and by the use of certain medications.

helpful tips for staying hydrated

Helpful Tips for Staying Hydrated

  1. Contrary to what we might think, it’s important not to wait until you are thirsty to hydrate with water. It’s better to sip water throughout the day and drink more fluids when temperatures rise, especially if you are active. 
  2. When summer hits, avoid being out during the hottest part of the day and stay cool with air-conditioning. If you don’t have it at home, go to a public library or go shopping or treat yourself to a movie. 
  3. Mother Nature has provided us with high water-content fruit like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and pineapples. Water-rich vegetables include cucumbers, leafy greens, radishes, celery, zucchini and tomatoes. 
  4. Wear white or light colored clothing to stay cool. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is one of the smartest things you can do for yourself, as long as it has the UPF40 rating, which gives you the best sun protection. 

The important thing to remember is that water is life and that finding ways to remind ourselves to hydrate can contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.


What I know for sure is that ultimately, the rewards and benefits in growing a flourishing garden and a meaning-filled life aren’t measured by the time or money we spend, but by the love we invest and the attention we give. 

We garden because it is through our attention, effort, and care that we form a reciprocal relationship and bond with our gardens — where through our tending, our gardens thrive — giving us the extraordinary experience of nurturing the growth of living things. There are few other paths we can pursue than that of a gardener, that will provide such profound opportunities to experience beauty, bounty, and fulfillment.

Toni Gattone looking with love at her roses
Working in the garden gives me something beyond the enjoyment of the senses. It gives me a profound feeling of inner peace.

- Ruth Stout
Toni reading Ruth Stouts book

Until the next post in this series, I’ll leave you with this … 

I believe it is in our giving —  in how we tend to our gardens, in how we pursue our purpose, in the ways we care for our people, and how we care for ourselves, that we receive our greatest experiences of thriving and prosperity.

Much love to you and your garden. Keep thriving!!

5 thoughts on “The Magic of Metaphors: Care Instructions for Our Gardens and Our Lives Part 1 of 3”

  1. Good morning Toni,
    What a great way to start my day.

    I’m getting back to gardening and can’t thank you enough for the encouraging words, subject matter and scope.
    Reminding us about the importance of self care is huge!
    I have tomato plants awaiting my attention today.
    Thanks again for the support and the wealth of information!

    Reply
  2. Enjoyed your thoughts very much. Glad you’re coping well. Still love the Seal Beach area. Love, Christine Bird

    Reply

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