Living

Life lessons from the garden

Professor Craig Chalquist, an editor of "Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind" (Sierra Club, $16.95), says research shows gardening can lift depression, release stress and anxiety and strengthen the immune system.

Here are his "nine lessons from the garden."

1. Abandon perfectionism.

"When you go out in the garden, the one thing you won't find is perfection," Chalquist says. Pests and weeds will invade even the most cared-for garden. It cannot be controlled, and a gardener must live with that.

"It's an opportunity to look at one's own imperfections."

2. Things take time to grow.

Chalquist says gardening requires patience and trust in the powers of growth to keep their own schedule. There are no deadlines and no rush.

"This can be a good lesson to learn," he says. "You can take the time and ask yourself, 'What is it that's growing in my life?'"

3. Detach from outcomes.

"When you plant seeds, you never know what's going to happen," he says. Your efforts sink into the ground, sometimes reappearing as new growth and sometimes just vanishing. Put effort into your life, he says, but realize that the outcome may not be what you expect or hope.

4. Everything contributes.

Chalquist says the plant you think of as a weed is actually a pioneer - a hardy, fast grower designed to break new ground for ecosystems to come.

"Even when it needs to be managed, everything contributes. And we know if you repress part of a system, you often strengthen it."

Every living thing has a purpose, and nothing in the natural world is wasted.

5. Everything self-organizes.

"The ground you walk on hosts fungi that stretch over wide expanses to manage which nutrients go to which plants and trees: Earth's quiet, weblike nervous system," Chalquist says. "The wisdom hiding in the ground resembles the wisdom within instinct, intuition, the gut: capable of meaningful arrangements if we allow ourselves to trust and get comfortable with it."

6. Things decay and die.

Chalquist says the garden teaches that some things need to go away; some old structures should decline. Many can become compost for new forms of growth.

"It is a time where you can ask yourself, 'What is dying in my life? What needs to go away?'"

7. Trust the senses.

When you taste something that grows in the garden and it's bitter, you spit it out.

"The garden teaches me that there are things my body doesn't find nutritious and that I should not let it into my system," Chalquist says.

Like a sour fruit or a bitter herb, there are people in a person's life who are tearing them down psychologically. They need to be spit out, he says.

8. Nature has multiple ways of doing things.

With pollination, if there are not enough bees, wasps, moths and other creatures pick up the slack.

"In any given ecosystem, there are multiple ways of getting things done," Chalquist says. "If we want a community or nation to really work, these one-size-fits-all solutions aren't going to be the right ones."

9. Nature bats first and last.

Chalquist says the living world will have the last say after you are done with it. Despite all our anxiety and doubt, loneliness and uncertainty, the forces of life and the cycles of seasons always have us firmly in hand.

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