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East County Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 2 weeks ago

Gardens provide escape from COVID-19

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Two lifelong gardeners explain how their favorite hobby provides a soothing presence in their lives.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

From sourdough baking to pottery making, people have been searching for new hobbies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another activity that has become more popular is gardening. The Observer spoke with two lifelong gardeners about why tending to a collection of plants can be good for the heart, mind and soul.

Former Lakewood Ranch Garden Club President Lori Walker, who has been gardening since she was 6 years old, said it is her sanity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said several hours often pass without checking the time when she is tending to the garden on her lanai. Walker likes that she can always see the results of her work and called gardening a calming and tranquil activity.

“It's a sense of satisfaction, a job well done,” Walker said. “When you stand back and say, ‘Oh, maybe tomorrow I'll have to come and do a little bit more over here.’ But eventually, it's perfect. And that's why it gives me great pleasure.”

Gardening is an excellent way to forget about the pandemic, said Longboat Key Garden Club President Susan Phillips, who has been gardening her whole life. She said it’s one of the few parts of her life, along with cooking, that have remained normal during the pandemic. Even going for a walk, she takes a face mask with her in case she has to pass someone on the sidewalk. Even going to the beach, she still has to maintain social distance.

“I don't have to wear a mask or gloves or social distance with my plants,” Phillips said. “When I’m out in the yard working, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. It is an escape. A happy, healthy, constructive, enriching activity. It's just wonderful.”

Phillips said she enjoys gardening because it's a constructive activity that requires gardeners to provide a certain amount of nurture, which she believes creates positivity in her life. She thinks taking care of plants while gardening gives her a better perspective. It forces her to be more giving and understanding, traits she can carry over into her interactions with people in everyday life.

“Everything has to be cultivated, nurtured,” Phillips said. “You have to spend time tending to it. And that's relationships or work or your pets, your gardens. Anything.”

She said there’s something exciting about simply watching her orchids bloom, calling it a gift. There’s something powerful in simply fixing a plant that is struggling to grow. Phillips gave the example of pruning a plant that has become clunky-looking and has shed too many leaves. You cut away the dead and overgrown parts, and the plant grows back healthier.

“It's almost curative sometimes,” Phillips said. “Gardening not only to the plant itself but to you inside.”

Lori Walker sits with her foxtail ferns and pygmy date palm in the garden in front of her house. Walker believes her gardens help her stay in touch with nature.

Walker, meanwhile, said providing life to her plants through the care she gives them makes her feel like a mother, adding that it’s evident when she neglects them. She doesn’t think about her own problems while she’s gardening because she has to think about her plants’ problems.

Phillips also said gardening provides quiet time that is soothing and even meditative for her. When she’s tending to her garden, she’s able to clear her head of everything else and focus only on her plants instead of work, COVID-19 or family problems.

Soaking in the fresh air and sunshine doesn’t hurt either. Phillips believes gardening is an excellent way to get closer with nature. Walker agreed and thinks it’s especially important to stay in touch with nature in today’s world, where people are more inclined to stay indoors. She believes part of the satisfaction of gardening is getting your hands dirty. She doesn’t even mind cleaning her fingernails of dirt afterward. At least, not that much.

Lori Walker stands with her Brazilian red cloak in the garden outside her lanai. Walker said gardening is her sanity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do wear gloves, but every once in a while I go, ‘Oh well, I'll be careful,’” Walker said. “Yeah, right.”

Phillips recently brought nature to her garden in a unique way. She was walking through the woods in one of her friend’s neighborhoods when they spotted some wild aloe plants. The two of them harvested the plants, and Phillips took them home and planted them in her yard.

“Instead of them living out in the wild and kind of underappreciated, I'm looking at them everyday,” Phillips said. “And I remember doing that little project with my friend. Those aloe plants have, since that, created these offshoots. And where I planted one, I now have seven of them. And they're healthy and beautiful. And they came from that little walk I took. I saw something beautiful that was being underappreciated, and I brought it home, and they're thriving. Now when I walk, I look for little treasures like that.”

Phillips said even people who don’t have a way to garden outside — whether they live in an apartment complex or somewhere the landscaping is controlled by someone else — can find ways to enjoy the power of plants. She recommended setting space aside for plants in the corner of your kitchen or dining room or balcony. Even taking a walk in a community garden, she said, can help people appreciate nature in a different form.

Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

See All Articles by Brendan

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