When I was seven years old at camp one summer, we planted beans. We watered them and checked on them every day, and the anticipation of watching them grow was exhilarating and remarkable. We couldn’t wait for the buds to peek through. The dedicated gardeners I know feel this anticipation and thrill at watching their plants grow the same way I did as a child. They find joy and peace and even healthy doses of therapy in the acts of digging and planting, in the daily rituals of watering and checking on things, in solving problems like pests coming in, in waiting for the stems to emerge, and in the harvesting of their bounty. Gardening is security and love. A garden is a place where plants and people can grow and thrive.
Just as gardens need tending, so, too, do people need very special care to grow and thrive. If they don’t get the love and attention they need, it can set them up for pain, suffering and failure all through their lives.
The man I am so blessed to be married to is someone who didn’t have much security or safety throughout his life. Born into chaos, he lived with neglect, brutal abuse, poor role models and trouble just about everywhere he turned – so much so that he became comfortable only when chaos was present.
From research studies we know that the experiences of child abuse and neglect can stay with survivors for a long time. Even as adults, these people can continue to suffer in ways that can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, guilt, physical illness, disturbing memories, eating disorders and dissociation. They also can have a very challenging time forming and keeping adult relationships. Many survivors of child abuse and neglect have trouble identifying, managing, and appropriately expressing their feelings, and due to this, they tend to have trouble coping with stress.
When I met my husband nearly 10 years ago, it was the beginning of a spectacular love story, the kind you dream about, but also the beginning of a long road of walking through the fire together. With common effects of child abuse and neglect in adulthood being anger, irritability, and difficulty expressing feelings constructively, we had our work cut out for us. We were challenged by all these things, and little by little, year by year, we learned to communicate better, we practiced humility, we prayed a lot, we learned to trust each other, we became better and stronger. We became best friends. We survived these difficult times together.
Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Roots of Therapeutic Gardening in the U.S.
Gardening has a rich history in the United States, and its therapeutic benefits are part of that. In the late 1700s, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, documented that garden settings and digging in gardens were significant factors in recovery for patients with mental illness. As a result, interest in therapeutic landscapes emerged and gardening as rehabilitation was born.
A garden is a sort of sanctuary, a chamber roofed by heaven… to wander in, to cherish, to dream through undisturbed. Sir Robert Lorimer, 1864–1929.
My husband keeps a lovely garden each year. He finds comfort there and he tends it with painstaking care. It is his safe place, his sanctuary. Likewise, having the safety and security of a dependable, loving family has allowed him to let his guard down and trust that the people around him will care for him as he cares for them. He is meticulous in his care of his garden that grows a bounty each year just as he is thorough and detailed in his care for his family. He is thoughtful and intentional with his actions and with the love he pours onto those under his protection. Though he is the same man who holds the same scars from his youth, he is undeniably changed, too, and clearly content in this life that must sometimes seem so foreign to him, given where he came from. Love and security have allowed him to become the man he was always meant to be, and he is thriving, we are thriving…the garden is abundant.