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On Growing Things

… Or Gardening as Self-Care

I’m sure it’s not a surprise if I say that 2020 was rough, and 2021 hasn’t started out all that great either. In addition to the looming menace of the pandemic and American presidential election cycle, my life personally took some major hits in 2020: my dear old border collie mix Gambit who’d been my Machiavellian little shit of a familiar since 2005 passed away in a very horrible, painful way just a week before campus moved to work from home in March; in May, after dealing with massive hormonal reactions to the infertility meds and finally moving forward with surgical intervention, my egg retrieval for IVF failed with no viable eggs; and oh yeah, a random person living in my neighborhood tried to strangle me to death while out on a walk on a random Sunday afternoon toward the end of June.

Let’s just say, I wasn’t in the best of mental and emotional states.

Luckily, I did finally get myself a therapist in April of 2020, so I had a bit more support than I would have in previous years. And my husband, as always, was one hell of a rock for me.

Still, though, my world had shrunk in on itself once I started working from home, and with my mental health sinking a little more every day, I needed something to focus on outside of myself.

Enter a couple of dear friends and my husband all but badgering me into creating a container garden. We started small, with a few vegetables in some large pots I already had and a few pre-planted hanging baskets and four non-descript black planters for the back patio with sweet potato vines and a few caladiums and some kind of flowering something that I just thought looked pretty.

And y’all, it felt like a bit of a revelation. I’d attempted growing container vegetables before (which failed horribly) and we had a few succulents scattered around, but it had been a few years since I’d really let myself focus on digging in the dirt and watching what I planted slowly begin to grow and bud and leaf out around me. I also had a task that took me out of the house: Every. Single. Day. Every afternoon, whether I felt like facing the world or not, I had to go out and water my plants and check for new tomatoes on my single, surprisingly productive, tomato plant. Later in the year, I got to be a little artsy and planted tiny succulents in each of my collection of tea cups and pots to decorate our front porch. With each plant we added at the house, a little of me seemed to smile just a bit brighter.

It’s amazing what difference a few minutes of sunlight and a few more steps could make in my normally closed up and sedentary home-working life.

It wasn’t a quick fix by any means. With my therapist’s help, I’ve discovered I likely struggled with an anxiety disorder and low level OCD at least since high school if not for all of my life. That may never truly go away, and I’ve come to terms with that. But how I handle my anxiety and the depression that joined it over the past few years, has gotten so, so much better.

And no, it’s not just the plants to thank, but they were definitely a factor.

Fast forward to 2021, and unfortunately February’s Snowmageddon (as everyone in Texas seems to be calling it) killed off most of my plants.

Admittedly in one case, I was OK with that as the utterly viciously spiked and root bound agave plants a neighbor abandoned on my front porch in the middle of the night finally died after literal years of neglect in our front yard, so I was able to reclaim the two large terracotta pots without paying for it in blood as I’d done the few times I tried to thin out the pups. I feel a little bad to be so thrilled by that, but seriously y’all I lost so much blood to those two agave over the years: So. Much. Blood.

But aside from that win, it felt a little discouraging that after all that work last year, I had very few plant friends left.

But y’all, remember how I said my husband is my rock? He decided to build me a set of raised beds for vegetables. And that turned into a whole platform with what will be a seating area between the beds, and two gorgeous wine barrels topped with planters, and (in a particularly sentimental touch) and entrance step underneath the arbor from our wedding.

We’ve hauled rocks and maneuvered planters and little by little, I’m starting to get excited to go outside again. This past weekend, I finally got up the urge to replace my poor hanging ferns and replant the tea cups on my front porch and just… begin again.

Because that’s the thing with a garden, isn’t it? Parts of it will always be transient, fading from year to year. Others might survive, but that act of restarting and renewing will have to happen each year.

And honestly, if that isn’t a metaphor for mental health and self-care, then I don’t know what is.

Did any of you end up surviving 2020 with the aid of some new plant frens? Let me know or share some pics over at twitter: @C_L_McCollum

I hope you liked the little glimpse of my garden as well!


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