Gardening has been my saving grace this pandemic season. Now that doesn’t mean I’ve reaped a monumental physical harvest – more on that later- but I can now see why people say gardening is therapeutic. This one hobby has taught me so much about myself as well as the work it takes to grow food. In this post, I will share how gardening has helped my mental health in the year that was 2020.

In the beginning of 2020, I was already dealing with lots of complicated emotions and feelings. Mainly, the guilt of setting boundaries around my families – nuclear and immediate. Then the pandemic happened and life outside of our home stopped. All five kids were experiencing school online exclusively, the husband was working from home until further notice, and we rarely left the house. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having a full house, knowing everyone was healthy and safe while we stayed put. But, now I had no personal space to reset and reenergize – to fill my cup. I had just began a great routine at our local gym, solidified a great schedule of serving in multiple church ministries, and began to feel like ‘Maryann the individual’. She – me – was now managing a mosaic of concerns about the evident change in and around her family while she – me – didn’t even know what the future held herself. The loss of control was taxing.

Control

So I invested my time into ensuring everyone in my household was generally transitioning into this new routine of “stay home, stay healthy”. This investment came at the cost of the narrowing my window of tolerance.

Window of tolerance is a term used to describe the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively. When people are within this zone, they are typically able to readily receive, process, and integrate information and otherwise respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty.

GoodTherapy.org

I began to slip into a continual cycle of anxiousness. My need to control everything in my household was becoming unhealthy. I had jumped on most of the food trends: sourdough bread making Dalgona coffee, and reorganizing all the things. By the middle of summer, I needed to get out of my house without really leaving my house – fast. I stood in my side yard and decided to start a garden.

Unrealistic expectations

Mind you this is in the middle of summer where temperatures averaged 110+ degrees. Obviously this wasn’t going to go well but I buckled down and exerted all of my anxious energy into planning this garden. If you know anything about me, you know I want to do things on the lowest budget possible. So I began to “shop” for items on Facebook Marketplace and Offerup. I found a kind women who was upgrading her garden. She sold me two garden beds for $40. These beds were only 6 inches in depth and I knew that wouldn’t be enough growing space for this amazing garden I was going to build. *insert sarcasm here* So I employed a couple of my teens to help me dig five inches into the clay soil. Let me say that again – clay soil. Moving clay is only possible if you wet it first and then dig into it. This also included moving a quarter of the rock landscaping. Did I mention the previous owners used this side of the yard as a dog run? So you can imagine the smell that permeated the area while we dug.

Rooted sweet potato slips that didn’t last longer than 3 days.

Was this a good idea? Nope.
Did we keep at it? Yes.

After digging up a ton of clay (it felt like a ton) and moving it towards the opposite end of the side yard, I excitedly went to our local home improvement store. I purchased some raised bed mix, compost, a couple seed packets, and made my way home. I decided I was going to attempt to grow tomatoes and pak choy from seed. Spoiler alert – it didn’t go very well. Remember its 110+ degrees during the day and 90 degrees in the evenings. The tomato plants that did make it grew a handful of itty bitty tomatoes. I was able to harvest a small amount of pak choy most of it went immediately to seed. I felt defeated but determined to redeem myself.

Redemption

10 foot tall mammoth sunflower

I wanted to redeem myself for the next growing season. So I began to plan my fall and winter garden. I researched the types of plants that would thrive in the low desert in the fall and purchased seeds. I began to purchase compost and add soil amendments to prepare the soil. My favorite local nurseries to purchase fertilizer and soil amendments are AZ Worm Farm, Whitfall Nursery, and SummerWinds Nursery. I have had great experiences with the employees and their knowledge of how to be successful in the garden. I can proudly say that I had more success with my fall garden growing kale, swiss chard, bok choy, lettuce, and snap peas. These quick crops gave me the confidence to continue to grow into spring and eventually in to summer.

The biggest lesson I learned from trying again as a novice gardener is to just try. You don’t really understand the microclimate that is your garden until you begin to plant, observe what works, make adjustments and sow seeds or transplants again. I’ve brought this concept into my life in real time. I’ve tried different ways to expand my audience for the blog and coaching programs. Sometimes they work and sometimes they are an absolute bust. I’ve learned to look into the reasoning of why something doesn’t work instead of beating myself up for it not working. This has been a huge shift in my thinking.

Building community

My first garden party
When I got that ChipDrop in 115 degree weather.

I began to research, something I really didn’t do in the beginning, about gardening in the desert. *insert face palm here* I learned what planting zone I lived in (9b/low desert), found Angela from Growing in the garden on YouTube, and joined a gardening group in my area on Facebook. Let me tell you about this garden group, they gifted me an enormous amount of knowledge, kindness, and generosity. My first interaction with a member of this group was going to her house to pick up a ton of luffa seeds. Then met another generous lady who gifted me a few dragon fruit cuttings and invited me to a seed exchange. We’ve now been garden friends for over a year and she’s brought so much joy in my life. If you are on Facebook, look up Little Plant Stands of Arizona! The provide free seeds, plants, plant accessories, and more all for FREE. You know I love free!!! This particular community gifted me with compassion and grace through the pandemic season of gardening. No matter our ethnicities, gender orientation, or political party; everyone was welcome and included. I have since brought seeds from my collection, plant starts, and more to my local free little plant stands. I’ve created a community around me who is supportive of my latest hobby. Its so nice to commune with people who share the same interest as you and share tips and tricks. I would have never known a community like this exists if I didn’t branch out and try something new.

Year 1 update

Its now been a full year since I created this urban garden and I can tell you that I am absolutely hooked! I’ve successfully grown small Japanese peppers – shishito peppers, sweet basil, Thai basil, garlic chives, brussell sprouts, jalapenos, canteloupe, and sunflowers. I am leaning into the uncomfortability of learning about what works best in my garden and how to improve the soil microbiome. I do still have plenty of vegetable plants that die. To date I haven’t been able to successfully grow tomatoes, cucumbers, luffa, squash, snacking peppers, okra, any other flowers except sunflowers, and the typical spicy peppers. I no longer beat myself up when something doesn’t work and try the seeds or transplants in a different location. I still continue to lean on my garden community and my favorite low desert YouTube channels.

If you are looking to start a home garden, do it. Not only will it teach you how to grow your own food, it will also teach you lessons about resiliency, and patience. You may even build a community around you that like to talk about what types of cucumbers work in their garden and how they are capturing rain water from this very wet monsoon season to water their garden through this planting season. Step outside of your comfort zone, lean into learning, and see how much you grow in the garden and within yourself.

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