Embrace the Joy (and Healing Power) of Gardening

“I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.” (David Hobson)

It was early April. Living in the midst of a nationwide lockdown and with nothing much to do, I decided to try my hand at growing plants from seeds. One morning, after treating myself to the sweet deliciousness of cantaloupe (muskmelon), I washed the seeds and left them to dry. The next day, I loosely sprinkled them in one of my spare planters. A week went by and nothing happened. Four weeks later, there was still no sign of any growth. Not wanting to give up, I did some research to understand where I had gone wrong. After educating myself, I covered the seeds with a layer of soil and continued watering them every day.

By mid-May, peak summer had set in and I started watering my plants (I did not have many at that time) twice every day. In a few days, I noticed a hint of growth in the cantaloupe planter. Soon, tiny green sprouts mushroomed in multiple places. The joy was indescribable. In a couple of weeks (end-May), the seeds had well and truly germinated. By then, two months had passed since I first planted the cantaloupe seeds. Although my love affair with gardening had blossomed (pun intended), the best was yet to come.

In June, when lockdown restrictions eased, I visited the nearest nursery and brought home some plants. Over the next few weeks, I made it a point to visit the nursery regularly. Slowly, my collection of plants started growing and I set up a small balcony garden. It seemed like I suddenly had a new purpose in life. However, it took one phone call from my sister to completely change my relationship with plants and gardening. On June 21, she called to wish me on Father’s Day. My spur-of-the-moment response was: “I don’t have children so why are you wishing me?” “You have your plants, don’t you? You love them just like your children,” was her counter-response.

“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.” (Gertrude Jekyll)

It is difficult to explain how deeply her words impacted me. I had become a (plant) parent without even realizing it. My balcony was full of lush plants and blooming flowers with whom I spent the best hours of my day. They were, for all purposes, my children, companions and stress-relievers, all rolled into one. Since then, I have been waking up every day and wishing my “children” a good morning. Whenever new flowers bloom, I send their photos to my mother to celebrate their birth. Gardening has indeed made me a proud father.

At the time of writing this, it is the second week of September. The cantaloupe plant, which was in its infancy just a few months ago, is now a confident “teenager”. Its vines have spread so rapidly that I had to improvise a makeshift trellis from wooden sticks to keep them from getting entangled (and to also save space in the balcony). The biggest moment of joy came last week with the blossoming of multiple yellow flowers on the cantaloupe vines. My child had come of age!

Despite living in near-complete isolation since March, I am in the happiest phase of my life. And my houseplants are a major reason for this happiness.

For me, an extremely fulfilling outcome of my gardening endeavors has been the enthusiasm shown by my family, particularly my niece and nephew. Although we live in different cities, I regularly share photos and keep them updated regarding new additions to my plant family. And what an impact it has had. One day, my niece called to tell me that the wheat seeds she had planted were finally sprouting. “When they grow big, dadi (grandmother) won’t need to buy wheat from the market,” the seven-year-old explained to me patiently.

And my nephew, all of three years old, monitors the progress of my plants and flowers via video call or updates from dadi. Whenever I show him my garden, he always tells me excitedly (with his nose in the air), “Bade papa (uncle), the plants are so beautiful!” He has been quite inspired by my gardening — one day, when he found a bitter gourd seed in the kitchen, he carried it around with him all day, telling everyone that he too would grow plants like bade papa. His favorites, of course, are the flowers. I continue sending photos to my nephew and niece in the hope that it will instill in them a lifelong love for plants and gardening.

Amid the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, the healing powers of gardening have touched many lives. It has given people something to look forward to even in these uncertain times.

Living under the cloud of the novel coronavirus outbreak, gardening has provided some semblance of a routine in an otherwise uncertain and stressful environment. In India and globally, people have taken to gardening in a big way; in fact, it has been the second-most popular activity during lockdown in some countries. While some people have taken up gardening to beat boredom, there are those who have found solace and comfort during this extremely stressful time. To some, it has provided an “area where you have a bit of control” and a “clearer concept of time.” To others, it has provided “more of a positive outlook on each day.”

A large body of scientific evidence has sufficiently proved that horticultural activities alleviate stress, improve mental and physical health, increase self-esteem, and boost overall well-being. Studies have hypothesized, and been able to successfully prove, the stress-relieving effects of gardening. It is also considered to increase longevity in a healthy way. In Okinawa, Japan, small personal gardens are maintained by residents even in old age. “In Okinawa, they say that anybody who grows old healthfully needs an ikigai, or reason for living. Gardening gives you that something to get up for every day.”

“Gardening simply does not allow one to be mentally old, because too many hopes and dreams are yet to be realized.” (Allan Armitage)

‘Mindfulness’ is a concept which is widely discussed these days. In its simplest form, it means living in the present moment without being judgmental. Tending to houseplants or spending time in your garden can be one of the most effective forms of mindfulness. “By connecting with the earth and with the practice of gardening, you can cultivate a healthy mind and feel calm and connected. Simply planting a seed with intention, or touching soil, can be transformative.”

Do you still need more reasons to start gardening? If not, go ahead and sow some seeds or bring home some plants. Your life will never be the same again!

[All photos are from my home garden.]

Founder at Alum Knight Partners. Writer and researcher.