The Cure for what Ails You

2002-08-31 21.36.43Perhaps the chiefest attraction of a garden is that occupation can always be found there. No idle people are happy, but with mind and fingers busy cares are soonest forgotten.   

Alicia Amherst, 1902


When I was little my mother and grandmother still believed in the old home-made remedies for most illnesses. So when I came down with some childhood complaint I would be presented with some revolting looking liquid to drink or inhale and right away I’d ask “What is it?”

For home-made remedies there was no simple answer. She would have put so much healthy stuff into the concoction that you couldn’t just say one name such as “It’s Aspirin” or “It’s Pepto Bismol”. She wouldn’t be able to list the many ingredients. My mother would simply say,

“It’s the cure for what ails you.”

It was usually a pretty good cure because I would do my best to recover before a second dose was due. I never knew what went into it, but it would be a complex mixture based on generations of experience.

I was reminded of it this afternoon when I went out into my garden feeling vaguely tired and unmotivated. I thought I might pick a couple of weeds. An hour later, with a pile of weeds and prunings dragged over to the compost, I felt much better. My garden, like the old medicine, was definitely “The cure for what ails you.”

How often do we go outside feeling hurt or vexed, or annoyed or puzzled, with our healthy feelings undermined and our composure rattled? A session among the plants calms us and allows us to find a measure of perspective.

It was like that today. I had wandered out thinking I’d just root out a couple of dandelions that were flourishing in the grass and even cheekily blooming. I thought that then I might sit for a spell, except that a couple of roses needed dead-heading and after that the hosta leaves were looking yellow so I….

You know how it goes. After an hour of weeding and pruning I conceded that perhaps I wasn’t totally unmotivated. And the physical labor had somehow vanquished the tiredness. I sat for a spell but I was writing – between watching the squirrels and the chickadees.

How is it that time spent in the garden or out in the woods ‘cures what ails you”? If you’re expending energy you should be tired. Yes, I had achy muscles, but I was refreshed.

None of the plants offer an answer to our conundrums, a way out of our problems or a brilliant solution to dealing with difficult personalities. Yet none of these ills are quite as pressing and impossible afterwards as they were an hour before.

I wonder if it because in a garden everything unfolds as it should, in its own time and in its own way. You can’t worry it into doing better, or pull a plant upwards to grow taller or strategize it into flowering more vividly. It calmly takes its own course – maybe doing better than you ever expected. Or not.

Perhaps it is that calm, even pace that relaxes our jangled nerves. Perhaps we need at times to be in a place where we can’t manipulate or finagle the result we desire.

We get results in the garden by calm, thoughtful work. We follow the structured, natural time-table. There is no point me planting daffodils in June, hoping they will bloom in November. I could hover over them applying fertilizer daily but it wouldn’t help my cause.

There is comfort in knowing that nature has greater rules and more established systems than we do. We can design our landscape, water and fertilize plants but we will have a glorious garden only if we follow the dictates of the natural world. As we work along with nature, following her lead, we develop not only healthy plants but a measure of ease for ourselves.

So as we work in our garden, or even sit quietly allowing its life force to wash over us, we are absorbing ‘the cure for what ails us’.


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