Views From The Valley » Susan BOLAN

Back To Basics

Spring usually means new hope but this month has been downright agonizing. Dealing with never-ending news reports about the coronavirus, plus the panic that ensued, has been unbearable for me.  Grief is hard enough to manage without this added layer of hysteria. I never want to hear these phrases again: “shelter in place,” “self-quarantine” or “social distancing.” Calgon, take me away…

As I have for years, I went out to the garden for relief. It is a place where I find peace, no matter the task at hand. From simple clippings to a major overhaul, I get into the zone and let my mind wander freely while my body pushes on. For me, gardening is a meditative experience that reduces my stress and helps me heal.

I come from a gardening family. My mom and grandma spent a lot of time outdoors, putting their hands in the soil, propagating plants and appreciating the lovely displays. The whole yard was a feast for the senses – beautiful colors, fragrant blossoms and delicious fruits, like boysenberries, ripe for the picking. My most vivid memory of my grandma is of her standing with a watering can in hand, taking care of all the greenery. She loved what she called her “pagoda,” a lattice-covered area on the side of the house that housed large ferns, aralia and star jasmine with hanging pots of impatiens and begonias. She was also particularly fond of African violets that she grew indoors and all geraniums, no matter the type or color. I still have some of the geranium plants from cuttings she made back in the 1970s-’80s.

My brother and I caught the gardening bug, too. Dad only liked the large projects he could do in a weekend like building a koi pond with water lilies. Our sister loved the scents. We all had our thing. I really started to enjoy gardening, though, when my husband Jeff and I moved into our first rental house in Sunland. It started with a patch of dirt out by the street. I turned the rough parkway into a flagstone path with lots of colorful annuals. I was so proud of my accomplishment; it made me feel cheery just to look at it. Jeff smiled and said it looked like a birthday cake. From then, I stuck with one color and created my first “purple garden” close to the house. Vibrant purple flowers among large rocks and bits of whimsy greeted visitors as they approached the front door.  Later, we cleared the backyard ivy together, installed raised beds and tried our first edible garden.  The bugs got most of the crop that year but it was so much fun to grow our own food! By this time, we had children and were able to engage them in planting, harvesting and eating the vegetables, giving them the farming experience.

During this time when I was working in the yard, my grandmother had already passed on but I found she would talk to me in the garden. Her voice in my head calmed me, made me feel reassured that everything was going to be all right. Real or imagined, it was a satisfying feeling that connected me to my past. Over the last 30 years, I have continued to seek out that comfort by getting my hands in the soil, grounding myself to the earth and remembering the way our ancestors worked the land. 

As our family moves forward in creating a spectacular memorial garden, I feel blessed to have the spirits of my grandmother and our son with us, giving us strength and cheering us on. I have left the angst of pandemic behind and am enjoying being outside, feeling the sunshine, smelling the fresh air and hearing the song of wildlife. Gardening has never failed to bring joy into my life. Try it.

Susan Bolan