By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
In my herb garden, thyme and oregano become woody in the face of cold. Sometimes, I think they won’t recover, but when intermittent warm days hint at spring to come, the fragrant leaves begin to sprout. Even when the air again chills to icy frosts, they know the future is bright and they thrive.
Not all growing things have such a strong internal clock. A string of warm fall days can trigger plum tree blooms. Like tiny pink bows, they peek from between the drying leaves, eager to give. Too eager. When winter winds blow, they flutter and fall. Energy expended but no fruit produced. Still, the trees have the good sense to rest. In the silent months, separated from their loving sun, the trees grow strong. So, when the timing is right, they are ready.
The apple trees, a crabby variety bred for drought, are resilient. Their blooms open in January, cling and remain. By June, they have ripe fruit. Their branches may be drooping, heavy with apples one day and then picked clean by coyotes in the dark of night. Often, the apples start afresh, and the trees bear a second crop, though smaller than the first.
The pomegranate trees are late to lose their leaves. Then their pale gray branches stubbornly resist the sun’s flirtation. A few fruits that are left hanging grow tough through winter but can sustain a wayward bird with an insistent peck.
The chaste tea tree is numbed by winter. So much so that as, all around, spring springs and greenery greens, the barren sticks seem dead. Every year, I am nearly fooled. I snap off a twig and find it wick. This makes me laugh. There is life inside. It only needs nurturing.
As the years have passed and estrangement endures through its seasons, I have seen myself in all of these. The herbs with their steady inner clocks. The plum trees that are, at times, too eager. The pomegranate trees that grow tough and stubborn but eventually live up to their varietal name (Wonderful). And the chaste tea tree that numbs and deadens. I am wick inside. If only I will not be fooled.
Using the garden to heal
Whether you like growing things, just spending time in a garden, or even looking at plant catalogs, can you parallel your growth or endurance in estrangement with that of plants and trees? Seeing ourselves reflected in a garden’s growth can be a healing. Can you imagine yourself recovering from the cold of a stressful season by stretching toward the sunlight? As you add water and special food, imagine treating yourself to loving care. Can you see yourself blooming? Even if you feel numb, as if your leaves droop and you thirst for sustenance, can you imagine you are quietly doing the work of resting, like my plum trees do in winter? Are you seeing bulb flowers sprout through the snow? If so, can you imagine yourself pushing up through the muck of a difficult relationship or the icy cold of rejection?
Whether you call it horticultural therapy or just call it fun or relaxing, cultivating plants or spending time in gardens has benefits. Reductions in stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, as well as enhanced self-esteem are all known positives.
If it’s still too snowy to do any outdoor gardening, consider getting started inside. I hear geraniums do well in pots. Or maybe just remembering being outdoors last summer would feel good. Imagine your feet, stepping into a soft carpet of grass, or the sunlight warming your back.
As the dead of winter marches toward spring, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment to this article about your own garden and how it helps you. I like reading about people’s gardens, and others do too.
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Your writing, whether in one of your thoughtful newsletter posts or your resourceful books, provides such a real level of support to dads and moms navigating life without one or more of their adult children.
With your thoughtful words, you have the ability to wrap us all with a virtual hug, just when we need a reminder to carry on. Your messages are hopeful and reassuring, at the same time you never diminish the painful reality and emotional responses of our experiences.
This garden post was very thought provoking as I planned to do some gardening today. In my previous life I spent a great deal of time cultivating various gardens around my gorgeous suburban home when I was living the “American Dream.” Looking back, I used this time gardening as an escape from abuse as I created little inviting alcoves where I could physically or mentally find temporary peace. Just like me, the garden looked perfectly happy on the outside, even though the reality was a different story.
When I left my abuser after 27 years and was shocked to lose my (“paid off 10 years ago”) home to foreclosure, I didn’t have the time, money or need to garden, plus I didn’t even have a home or garden! My focus shifted to my survival, since losing my adult child to Parental Alienation also happened during this time. The desire to care for and cultivate plants was a painful reminder of losing everything that I had spent decades cultivating, including my beautiful adult child.
Time, though, does has a way of healing our hearts. I have also found writing to be extremely therapeutic on my journey as an Erased Mom. Sheri, thank you for your support and endorsement of my 4-book series TRUE DECEIT FALSE LOVE which is a personal effort to creatively address Domestic Violence, Narcissistic Abuse and Parental Alienation.
In my healing journey I also chose to move to the Caribbean from the Midwest and have found the change in scenery to have a positive effect on my day-to-day. There are still triggers that pull on my heartstrings, but I’m creating new memories and enjoying new experiences. After close to a decade, I am now ready to create and tend to a new garden. Because of the change in locale and climate, there is a great deal of learning and experimentation that will need to take place for the plants to flourish. My heart, soul and life will be simultaneously evolving as well.
Sheri, thank you for planting the seeds of hope and love, mixed with acknowledging the harsh reality of what we’re experiencing, to give so many dads and moms reassurance and support.
Much love to you,
Marni Hill Foderaro
The salesman at the garden store made some comment about my purchase along the lines of, “I bet you save a lot of money growing your own medicinal herbs.” and I was momentarily confused; I was there to adopt a new family member, and like all new plant parents and pet puppy product purchasers, I spoil my “kids” rotten.
I tried to explain that I probably didn’t; If I had “extra” money to spend, I would be able to care for more plants but that isn’t the point.
It isn’t so much that I’m consuming a product as that I’m having a very personal experience with a spiritual being. The plants understand when people don’t, they never judge me for crying “over nothing”, and they respond to my love with there own. There is never a dull moment in my little garden.
It gives me so much pleasure to live in a time when LED lights are cheap, affordable, environmentally appropriate, and readily available at the dollar store so that we can bring our greenbabies inside with us over the winter.
Thank you for everything, Sheri. You probably don’t even remember me, but I used to post on the forums a lot when it was just the two girls. I tried to come back again when things became exponentially worse, but it sounded too unbelievable so talking about myself didn’t work out. Horticulture did.
I do remember you Phoenix12. I’m sorry things got “exponentially worse.” I’ve seen and experienced a lot, and would not judge you or find things hard to believe. So many who visit here could relate to unfathomable goings-on.
I’m in a different home now (long distance move this year) and am making new horticultural friends (hard to make any other sort with all the social distancing and fear).
Take good kind care of yourself and your green friends. You’re welcome to talk here whenever you want.
Hugs to you.
So healing to hear another mom understand and describe my pain exactly. I felt so alone and like a pariah. Your website was a Godsend. I heard there was a very bad hurricane where my daughter lives. Everyone wanted to ask me questions about my daughter. Truth is she didn’t respond to my texts. My husband ( her step father) text her and gets immediate response. Hurt? Absolutely, shocked? Not in least. Was just healing knowing I’m not alone.
Hope you are well Sherri and thank you for sending messages! In my attempt to stop being blamed for another abusive blast and personal ‘teardown’, I initiated a temporary cease fire, as my therapist instructed me to stand up for myself , demand respect! Now it’s worse! I read that ‘What you allow, will continue’, I held out the ‘olive branch’, now what? I believe that the ‘narcissist’ always wins! Brokenhearted again in Canada