The Helping Garden
By Helen Lofgren  
NSAEHA Newsletter June 1992

My garden is a healing place.  In it I grow all sorts of wonderful organic vegetables, fruits and herbs which are essential to the health and well-being of our family, especially because we have to contend with multiple chemical sensitivities, environmental sensitivity or whatever you call it, as well as regular old allergies.  We usually have a fair bit in excess of our summer needs which we freeze so we can enjoy the same wholesome food throughout the winter.  We even have quantities of raspberries both to eat in season and to freeze, quantities we could never afford to buy.  We share with neighbours and friends.  Last year I had a zucchini and cucumber failure (ďno oneĒ has zucchini failure if they plant it, but I did!), but lots of garlic, borage and coriander to share, and even then, garlic left over.  We donít by any means grow all or our own produce, but what we do grow helps to reduce a very large food bill, particularly large because we try to eat as much organically grown food as possible.  The garden is a real money-saver Ė that is, when we donít put a monetary value on the time it takes, even at minimum wage.  When I do consider even a modest value of my time, the cost of our home-grown produce is high and I can better appreciate the cost of purchasing organically grown produce which usually come from very labour-intensive sources, people who work very hard and deserve a decent living, though unfortunately many do little more than scrape by.

Our garden heals us with its produce.  I could tell you about the antibiotic properties of garlic and onions, the virtues of broccoli, cabbage, kale and all the brassicas, and of carrots and the orange vegetables and fruits.  I could tell you about the rapid deterioration of nutritional contest of produce once it is picked and hence, the virtue of eating fresh from the garden.  I could tell you about the superiority of my home grown and frozen produce compared to any other, fresh or frozen (except, perhaps, for yours) available to us throughout the winter.  But Iím not an expert.  I read about the nutritional and healing properties of garden produce and have a modest library about these and other garden matters such as soil, compost and mulch, nutritional requirements of the various plants and companion planting.  I donít always remember exactly what I read, but I know the information is there and where to find it when I want it.  Much of the information can be found in the public library.  Iíve built my library largely from books from the used book stores.  Some comprehensive cookbooks such as Laurelís Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson et al. (Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1986), usually available at Mary Janeís and Supernatural Food in Halifax, have a fair bit of this information.  You can read of the advantages of home grown produce, especially when itís organic, for yourself.  Iíd rather be in my garden tending it, planting and harvesting, than listing those things yet again.

What I do want to take time to explain is that my garden is itself a healing place, a place where I am healed as I am in it, no matter when the season, no matter what I am doing in it, working hard or just looking.  I began writing this article last fall when there was so much of my garden in me and in how I felt.  I knew that I always felt good from the earliest spring days of winter clean up and marveling at the earliest signs of new growth; the bright yellow flowers of winter aconite at the end of February followed by snowbells and crocus, then dandelion and coltsfood.  We eat dandelions.  Planting time comes so fast, seemingly always juggled with rain just as I was about to go out to plant, and then, blackflies.  Too many excuses, and then itís late for planting; thatís Nova Scotia.  Summer.  Everything grows; you can see it grow from day to day.  Itís exciting to jump out of bed early each morning to look out and marvel and whatís there and how quickly it develops.  Harvest; spinach, radishes, lettuce peas, asparagus, strawberries, and now it is summer.  Beans of many varieties, broccoli, greens of all sorts, carrots, turnip, green onions, zucchini.  Pumpkins, winter squash and melons begin to set, cabbages, parsley and celery fill out, herbs are bountiful.  Raspberries, tomatoes at last, and new potatoes, onions garlic, cabbage, the fall harvest, and finally, after the first frosts, brussel sprouts and kale.  Thatís not everything and the garden is never the same from year to year.  But by the time fall comes and weíve been eating our fill as well as blanching and freezing or canning the excess for the winter and spring to come, Iíve forgotten what itís like each winter and early spring not to have the garden to work in.

The leaves have turned and fallen, itís cold.  Plants die back and Iím not wild about that, though Iíve come to enjoy a kind of peacefulness and serenity in the shapes and colours of bare trees and shrubs.  Bark rough and smooth, grey, brown, yellow, pink, white, green, red, black.  Winter berries, birds, snow, ice, wind and then rain.  The hardest time for me in the garden is early spring when the frost is still in the ground, the snow has melted enough to reveal all the work to be done, but itís too soggy and cold to do any work yet.  I feel a bit down and realize Iíve felt that way for a while, and I donít know why.  Just now it doesnít feel very healing, and I feel empty.

One day itís a few degrees above freezing; perhaps the sun is out.  It feels like spring! Everywhere in the garden thereís work to be done.  Remove the leaves from the garden beds, pull back the winter mulches, prune the raspberries.  Itís a good time to pull grass growing where itís not wanted while its roots have died back and not yet begun their spring growth.  Clean up winter damage.  Listen to the spring birds sing, watch them feed and take nesting materials.  Itís hard not to feel good being in the garden again, even with all the work.  Now I am reminded of how healing and spiritual my garden is, and I do miss it in the early spring when the memory of last season has faded and I canít yet begin work for the new season.  The first day out to work in it and it all comes back to me.  My garden is a healing place for me, it is for most of the gardeners I know.