Garden Happiness: love of dirt, color green, and peace
I had a garden once that swallowed the house with living proof of heaven on earth. It was an amazing place filled with perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs of every size and shape, and green garden happiness. Sweet woodruff, Sedum, variegated Euonymus, and spirea hugged peonies, tickseed, and purple pincushion.
Transformed over seven years from a cement launch pad and brown-patched lawn, my garden became an urban farm sanctuary packed into a narrow 5000 square foot lot. There were several kinds of berries, fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables wherever I could tuck them. The only thing missing were chickens and goats.
This garden was an evolving canvas of ordered chaos brimming with chocolate brown dirt and lush green happiness. The greens were stunning: yellow-green, moss green, and dark green to name just a few. I never knew there were so many tints and shades of green. Wikipedia names about 20 greens in nature, and another 30 “notable” green colors. I planted a good many of these. While everything else died away each winter, the evergreens stayed. Some of these morphed from gold, to orange, and red against the grey Portland skies.
Sometimes early morning before work I would wander aimlessly with a cup of tea soaking it all in, listening to the stillness. This garden was a place where time stopped, and life began. All the answers to past, present, and future problems dissolved here into the simple yet miraculous beauty of growth. From toe to head I was welcomed each day into a world that I understood with all my senses, a full heart and a quiet mind.
One of the things I miss most was peering out the window to see what had changed since the last time I checked. Confirmed with a closer look, I would check again and wander the paths (with cat following at his leisure) to find new green shoots and misplaced sedum running amok. The smell of fresh earth and hay mulch filled the air with hummingbirds flitting about while on the ground shiny slug trails found there way towards violets and tiny buds emerging.
Last fall I sold the garden – along with the house – to its new owners – its new lovers. I have no regrets. I am happy knowing that I have passed along a raucously colorful party with more than 20 tints and shades of green. Proud Facebook photos of bursting blooms and jungle madness are clear signs of green joy and garden happiness. I believe these new caretakers understand this garden is beauty, life, and stillness. It is for collapsing after a hot summer day of weed-pulling in raspberry heaven, to watch the bright pink evening sky.
Recently I was missing it all dreadfully: the joy of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching the earth. I offered to haul compost and sling dirt for friends just for fun – twice in one week. This was a sure sign it was time to find a new garden to call my own.
I went online and found the Portland Urban Farm Collective. Mostly in the northeast, I was thrilled to see these community gardens expanding into southeast Portland with two new urban farms. The urban farm collective works through a barter economy and closed loop system. Members share labor and resources (land, water, seeds, compost and tools) and trade between gardens with barter bucks.
A short email and I was a member. Within a few days I was digging in the hot sun (along with a joyful unsuspecting friend). We shoveled and built raised beds up to our knees in glorious dirt. The next week I volunteered to bring a load of free Alpaca manure found on Craigslist. It was beautiful stuff: fresh green steamy piles mostly aged, layered with hay and yard debris.
Although I miss my lush green heaven, I now realize it is a state of mind to carry with me. Garden happiness has merely shifted to new forms like urban farm collectives and planter boxes. Last weekend a friend returned the many small pots of sedum I gave her for safe keeping during my move. I brought them home to my tiny urban dwelling and arranged them around the back door. While digging and transplanting shallow roots from pot to pot, my timid cat – who lately prefers sleeping under the bed – tip toed outside to roll in the grass. Apparently he has also sensed a shift. The joy of garden happiness missing from his life is now back to stay.
Author: Kathryn Thomsen
Founder of Hundredgivers, a nonprofit supporting and accelerating sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. In addition to social entrepreneur, Kathryn is a consultant, researcher, writer, communicator and urban farmer. She collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses to evaluate and develop climate change, clean energy, and sustainability strategies and programs.