Featured Blog by Dr. Kate Neale: Gardening for Wellbeing

Photo: Kate Neale

Ever since it occurred to me how much being in my garden brought me joy, I’ve been slightly obsessed with pursuing research on the links between gardening and wellbeing. As I was finishing my Ph.D., days on the computer were long. I sat mostly idle in quiet spaces, tapping away at my plastic keyboard as I felt the burn of the computer screen light shining back on my face often into the wee hours of the morning.

It felt as though my only release was to escape to my garden. I would do as little or as much as I wanted there. I would talk to myself about everything and nothing. I would let complex ideas float from my consciousness and more often than not, the answers would find me some time later when I was least expecting them.

Time in the garden would sometimes involve hard physical labour. The type that left you so tired by the end of the day you’d want to collapse into bed. But I yearned a different kind of tired to the intellectual exhaustion of finishing a dissertation, so welcomed the aches and pains. I would be at the mercy of the weather. The cold sharp winter winds or the stifling heat of the harsh summer were a welcome change from the temperature controlled sterility of the university library. Birds would sing, leaves would rustle and the sounds of bees buzzing would catch my attention and often my imagination. I’d intently examine a new flower bud or the development of new fruit I’ve never grown before, for no other reason or justification than I wanted to. I’d ask myself curious questions like “Why do plants have hair?” and delight in the sight of lady birds or dragonflies drawing my mind back into some of my favourite childhood storybooks. I’d plant flowers that indulged my secret love of romance and whimsy, otherwise suppressed in a world of order and modernity. And most importantly for me, I planted where and what I wanted, with no compromise or consultation with others – a stark comparison to the constant and necessary negotiation of work, family life, and doctoral supervision.

Photos: Kate Neale  

The Ph.D. is now completed, but the constant companionship and deep love for my garden endures. Determined to forge a research career in an area I’m truly passionate about, I now research the benefits of gardening for a person’s wellbeing and sense of connection and belonging. Harping back to my principal interests in ethics relating to children and people with disabilities, I’m particularly interested in not just why we garden for wellbeing, but HOW we do it.

When working with children especially, there’s a tendency for adults or carers to dictate how a task is to be done, both out of a desire to minimise risk or harm and to help ensure a “great result”. But as with learning, the joy of gardening is often in the unknown adventure it takes us on, and the liminal moments of discovery that happen along the way. And some of that requires mess, confusion, and failure. So although we may be tempted to look for bountiful harvests and an overflowing garden to gauge a garden’s successes, it is worth focusing on what was gained for the gardener throughout the process. To do so, however, we need to authentically support children’s active participation and social learning. We need to relinquish control and accept the messiness that is the discovery. And we need to shift our involvement from that of teacher or leader, to one that sees all participants interacting within a dynamic system of shared knowledge and power.

There are a number of ways we can do this:

  • Ask, do they want to garden? Because actually they might not, and that’s fine. There will no doubt be a myriad of other related activities they can contribute meaningfully in (building, documenting through photographs, cataloguing seeds, researching what to grow in the coming months).
  • Involve them in early planning stages – the sooner they are involved, the more likely they’ll engage and feel like it is their space to enjoy and care for.
  • Build on existing capacity as the starting point – find out what they already now and use it to identify leaders and strategize for gaps in knowledge.
  • Allow access, PLAY and exploration – you wouldn’t want to spend time in your garden if every second involved assigned tasks and structured jobs so don’t expect them to either. Play is important.
  • Be prepared to learn too – as adults, we like to think we know it all, but we really don’t.
  • Celebrate the little wins – you don’t need a punnet of strawberries to feel a sense of accomplishment that comes from growing your own – just one will do!
  • Enjoy – it’s hard to make a joyous space if there’s no joy present when it’s built.
Photo: Kate Neale
Photo: Kate Neale

 

*Dr Kate Neale is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University in Australia. She specialises in ethical methodologies of involving kids and people with disability meaningfully in therapeutic horticulture programs and research. She has written a number of therapeutic gardening programs, runs workshops on therapeutic gardening for kids and people with disabilities, and researches in the field. She’s happiest in gumboots.

Photo: Kate Neale

To Every Season…or Welcome Winter?

As my love of gardening has grown, I’ve come to despise cold weather.  Watching plants shrivel and die is akin to watching someone you love walk away.  Sure…you know they’ll be back, but the knowledge of their departure hits you in the feels.  Although I know winter is a time for planning (and indoor gardening), there’s nothing like digging your fingers into soil, warmed by the sun, as a breeze swirls around the wisps of hair surrounding your face…

(*sigh) I miss it so much already.

But as the song says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven, (turn, turn, turn)…”  So as the seconds, minutes, and hours pass…as we change the calendar, and the darkness covers us earlier, I exhale and accept the change of seasons.  Not only in nature, but within myself.

I began this blog as a record of my transition to becoming a gardener.  I was a woman obsessed with shopping for shoes & clothes, but as that season came to an end, a new season including began to rise.  I began to realize that my life was NOT going according to plan. I began to realize that change is inevitable. I began to realize that no matter how much I hate it, there will be cold days. There will be cold days & icy days & rainy days. There will be tornadoes & hurricanes & blizzards…but that it is a necessary happening. I am realizing that this season is only at its beginning, and I will only rise to welcome it.  So, as the weather grows colder outside, and as I cringe every time I look at the forecast (HOPING for an unusually warm day) the clouds are clearing, and the purpose under heaven is making a turn as I encounter this new season as my “…time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.”

So walk into this new season with me.  Perhaps you will find your new season as well…

Turn, turn, turn…

BGP #WhyWeGarden Contest Update…Cash Donation Surprise!

TEACHERS! There’s a NEW sponsor & prize for the #BullockGardenProject #TEACHER contest!!! Watch the video from our past contest vlog and submit your videos! Tag @bullockgarden and #WhyWeGarden so we can choose our favorite!

Thank you to The Ron Finley Project for this amazing donation & supporting our endeavors!

TEACHERS! Contest Alert🚨

Would you like to start a garden at your school? Shoot a video telling us WHY you would love to have a garden! Feel free to include students and/or colleagues and make it fun! upload your video to either Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (or all three)! Tag us @bullockgarden & use the hashtags #bullockgardenproject AND #WhyWeGarden. All entries are due by midnight November 1! We will select the winner November 2.

You’re never too busy to garden…6 gardening ideas that don’t take a lot of time

By Teresa Brown

Excuses are like belly buttons–we all have one. The most frequent excuse I hear for why someone doesn’t garden, is lack of time. But, being a busy working single Mom of two, I easily pop a pin in that balloon of an excuse.

Yes, some plants and crops require more attention than others. Yes, some plants are needy and require consistent watering to get established. No, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid gardening all together.

Here’s a few ideas to try if you want to garden but feel you might be too busy.

Meadow or Pollinator garden– This garden is a lazy gardeners dream and often require minimal commitment and investment. Your yard doesn’t have to be just a lawn which lacks the ability to absorb considerable water, doesn’t provide food, and doesn’t provide habitat to our needed pollinators. You can set aside an area as small as 10×10 (100 square feet) and choose not to mow. This area will often repopulate itself with local native plants, simply through you not mowing. If you want to rush the process, and increase the diversity of the plants, you can spread soil directly over top of your lawn (some people choose to use a sod cutter to get rid of the grass, others choose to put cardboard down and pile new dirt directly on top of the cardboard) and sow native seeds. Depending on your area, you can plant various nectar sources and host plants, such as butterfly weed, milkweed, spicebush, yarrow, carrot, fennel, parsley, and coneflower. Once seeds germinate or plants are established, they need little attention, aside from a Spring clean up if needed. Plants native to your area, are likely to need less attention.

Planting en masse–This year we sowed poppy seeds en masse for the first time ever. It was such a striking sight and required little attention.

We spread soil at least 4 inches thick over the soil and grass. We then lightly raked the area and scattered poppy seeds in both the winter and the beginning of spring. Our poppy garden was incredibly striking, and all we did was occasionally put the sprinkler on it, paying more attention to young poppy seedlings. In summer, we planted an array of cosmos and zinnias. There are so many possibilities with planting seeds en masse!

Portable gardens– Our partner Gardenuity offers multiple options that offer flexibility. Do you use lots of garlic? Or maybe you love salad and want to grow a salad container garden? With the temperature extremes in NJ, you can lose crops if you don’t have the right set up for hot and cool weather plants. But if you plant salad or garlic in movable bags and containers, you can keep your crops healthier and assure they don’t die out with a premature frost or extreme weather event. We’re really excited to try Gardenuity’s Garlic planter!

Microgreens–Have you ever tried microgreens? These nutrient packed baby greens are popping up in upscale and trendy food markets and restaurants everywhere. You can literally plant microgreens after soaking seeds, water daily, and harvest for salad in 10 days or less–all from the comfort of a sunny windowsill in your home. We grow our microgreens in our porch pots throughout the summer, adding them to salads, sandwiches, and eggs. Radish and leafy greens are our faves so far!

Hydroponics– There are a ton of hydroponic systems out there! Now, many do require more of an investment up front, but considering it is reusable and does the watering for you, what’s not to like? You can even save money if you prefer to make your own system, but that will require time to research and build to your needs. This can be used indoors or out, depending your set up and location.

Self watering greenhouses– Have you seen our partner Vegepod? They offer self-watering greenhouses of different sizes. We love this option in NJ where the weather can be extreme at times. Our garden club kids sow seeds, water, and harvest food from our Vegepod like pros! The greenhouse helps keep moisture in when needed, but also allows rain and sunlight in. Bonus feature is it protects food from critters and deer.

These are just a few ideas to get the creative wheels turning for Fall and beyond! We can’t wait to show you more! Keep following @bullockgarden across social media for more details!