Monday, June 18, 2007

Gardens have many benefits

For those of us who live in the city, but have roots in rural areas, this is the time of year we yearn to garden.

On my parents’ farm, a large garden was not just a hobby but a necessity. We tried to have enough vegetables to supply us for the entire year, if possible. Carrots, cabbages, beets, onions and especially potatoes went on for rows and rows. While corn was a favorite, it was also a luxury: we received often less than a dozen inches of rain per year, so each drop of water was precious in our ponds, dugouts or storage containers. Corn, unfortunately, usually required more water than we had available.

The garden took several days to weed, and as soon as we appeared to have accomplished weeding that last row, it would be time to start all over again in a continuous battle.

But the big garden was worth the work. The potatoes, onions and carrots would last us through the winter, thanks to being stored in a dark, cool separate room. We were careful to ration the potatoes as winter dragged on, and looked forward to when the new crop of potatoes would be available to bake with dill.

After moving away from the farm, I’ve lived in several different places, from apartments to rental basements to owning my own house. Sometimes there was no room for gardens, sometimes a large garden space was available. Occasionally I concentrated on flowers more than vegetables and herbs, partly because of lack of space or good soil.

Since moving to Oregon, another situation arose: what to do about the endless attacks from slugs. They seem determined, even when I used containers. They just worked up an appetite after climbing any potential barriers I put in their way.

I finally have been forced to place any vegetables and herbs in containers on a second floor deck, although flowers remain on containers on the ground around the yard.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had to adapt to growing my small garden here that I found a newsletter by the National Garden Bureau to be of interest this morning.

The Bureau has a slogan of “A Garden in Every Yard … or Roof” and encourages everyone to be a gardener, every if they live in a city and need to grow on roofs of buildings instead of traditional ground plots in yards.

The Bureau published an article written by Janis Kieft/ The article has some interesting points of why people should becomes gardeners.

The first suggestion was to have a garden for old or new traditions that families can enjoy doing together, or save money by having “the freshest vegetables and flowers right outside your door….”

Another reason to garden: for the environment, offering habitat and food for animals and preserving native plants, as well as “a place for water to drain naturally, helping plants grown and cycling water back into the ground.”

The bureau added a garden can attract desirable wildlife — birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, squirrels, deer, etc. — although it did note that “gardeners may not always welcome larger animals.”

It reminded me that I am have tried for a couple of weeks, unsuccessfully, to trap a family of raccoons that visit my yard each night. A possum has been trapped thus far and was relocated to a nice new area to live, but the raccoons have continued to set off the cage trap without being caught themselves.

The next reason to garden? To live longer, by “keeping active, both mentally and physically,” according to the Bureau. Besides the benefits of exercise, “gardening provides stimulation of all five senses — sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch” so gardening can help reduce stress by being so pleasantly stimulated.

Perhaps that stimulation counters the stress caused by the sight of so many weeds overtaking the produce, the sounds of a slithering garter snake when it was least expected, and the bites of so many mosquitoes devouring the gardeners in the morning or evening hours.

Gardening is also great for solitude and escape, said the Bureau. Ever notice how whenever there are unwanted relatives visiting, how quickly someone will volunteer to do some gardenwork for a few hours? Escape is the perfect word.

The National Garden Bureau also noted that a garden helps to heal, and that is why hospitals and health care facilities often have gardens that can serve as therapy “whether the scars are physical, emotional or spiritual.”

As the Bureau explained in its press release, “Gardens can be a respite from heartache and despair, a place to enjoy the beauty, scents and surprises of nature. Planting and caring for a beautiful flower or productive vegetable garden provides a sense of accomplishment without pressure, demands or expectations.”

And lastly, gardens inspire children and adults, encouraging creativity in such areas as photography, painting, poetry, music or other ways. “They remind us of everything that is good in our lives — the beauty of nature, the abundance of our land, and the time we have to share with others,” said the press release.

How true. No matter where my gardens have been, big or small, I always marvel at what amazing life form has grown from a tiny seed, how exquisite is a flower or intricate a leaf, and I always eagerly want to share with others what I have grown.

There is always a mix of pride in awe when we can tell our guests the food is from our gardens when they remark how fresh or tasty the food item are on their plates at a meal.

Even though we have a lot of nutritional, safe and tasty food produced by other farmers in this country — for which we are deeply grateful — there’s always a place for us to grow a little garden ourselves and share what we grow.

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