As we celebrate our tiny Thanksgivings this week (three people in my group, rather than the usual 22), we’ll have plenty of time to remember how much there is for which we can give thanks. There are big things to be grateful for, such as front-line health care workers, the scientists developing vaccines and the parents and teachers nurturing children during this very strange and difficult time.
But don’t forget all the little things that cultivate gratitude—all those long walks we took this summer, the companionship of dogs, the neighbor kids throwing a ball in the yard, and our gardens. Like many, I was grateful to be a gardener this year.
We have an article in the next issue of Northern Gardener about how garden centers and garden clubs have weathered the Covid-19 pandemic. Over and over, the business owners I interviewed mentioned how grateful people were to be able to garden—it was a safe respite in a scary world. As one nursery owner said, “I can’t tell you how many people came in and said they were so grateful we were open.” Others called gardens and gardening “sanctuaries” and “a place to connect with nature.” All true, and good reasons for gratitude.
Even now, as the weather is consistently cold and the plants have turned orange and brown, looking at my garden gives rest. It’s not a perfect garden (far, far from it!) but it’s a place that I can nurture no matter what is happening in the world. I can plan for next year and consider what happened in the garden in 2020. I added more native plants to it recently and last year, on advice from our Northern Natives columnist Beth Stetenfeld, I added a brush pile in a discrete corner. All summer, I watched the birds that seemed to come and go from the pile—the robin that nested in the spruce tree, the sparrows that settled in the arborvitae about 10 feet away. Mexican sunflowers brought in monarchs by the dozen and goldfinches that pecked at the seeds for food. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a goldfinch bobbing on a branch so closely before. In the garden, we slow down.
With more time at home, I probably watered more regularly than usual, resulting in more tomatoes from my plants. The lettuce didn’t go to seed because I wasn’t traveling as I had planned, and I not only had time to observe that the plants in one front bed just were not thriving but to do something about it. I sent in a soil test and found the soil was surprisingly acid! No wonder. In the garden, we pay attention and take care.
Many studies have shown how healthful gardening is — I know enough 90+ year-old gardeners to believe those studies implicitly. In the garden, we bend, we stretch, we dig, we breath. We feel the sun on our backs and the damp soil on our knees. We pause to think about whether that plant is in the right place and what more it needs. Gardening helps keep our minds and our bodies in balance. This year especially, I feel great gratitude for that.