Healing gardens change Villagers' lives

In the harsh desert ecosystem there is something called a "nurse plant." When a seed is lucky enough to land in the shelter of an already established plant, it may find the protection it needs to survive, to resist scorching sun, drying winds and hungry herbivores.

The nurse plant and the seedling it protects interact and influence each other and form a part of the interwoven web of life that constitutes the ecosystem.

When I contemplate the word "humanity" in the name "Gardens for Humanity," I think about the human interaction with the living environment.

Human beings, of course, need protection, shelter and food to mature and survive just like a seedling. However, beyond the reality of our physical needs, humans need relationships that build emotional strength, not to just survive, but to thrive and to fulfill our purpose. That is our "humanity."

To meet the needs of people and the environment on all levels, we need to develop healthy relationships and compassion.

This reality is magnified in the struggles of life and in moments of crisis, illness and infirmity. Humans share this reality with nature, which is also struggling, and in the act of gardening, they experience the healing fostered by this mutually nurturing connection.

Residents of the Sedona Winds Assisted Living Center experience this in the garden we helped create last year. It was dubbed "The People's Park," and now is providing moments of cheerful gathering and interaction with people and plants.

Students from Verde Valley School have visited to help plant and the garden is cultivating compassion for residents, their families and community alike, and reducing a feeling of isolation.

When we created the learning garden at the Cottonwood Head Start, we didn't imagine it would have an impact beyond the children attending and their families.

Beyond our expectations, however, the third-grade teacher at the neighboring elementary school started to bring her students to the garden to be "reading buddies" with the preschool children and to work in the garden with them.

Their teacher wrote to me last week, "One student expressed that the garden has changed his life and the life of other students."

Besides being successful in turning a rocky, inhospitable, neglected space into a little oasis of food growing and sustainability, healing a small piece of land at the Head Start, the garden provided a context for the third-grade students to become "nurse plants" for the preschool children.

Recently, we assisted the volunteers at Camp Soaring Eagle to provide a container garden for their campers, who are children with critical health disabilities. We call their garden project, "Soaring Seeds."

Again, beyond the impact on the campers, the students at St. Joseph's Montessori School in Cottonwood painted the planting tubs, and sixth-grade students at Oak Creek School in Cornville helped plant flowers and herbs in them.

In this process, students at participating schools learned about the challenges of their peers, who live with disabilities and life-threatening diseases. During the planting, the joy, passion and cooperation of the sixth-grade students were impressive, and they were happy to serve and beautify the camp's grounds.

Working with plants, sowing and nurturing seeds, and interacting with others and nature in the sheltered context of a garden is an uplifting activity that brings happiness and healing. Often people bury their hurts and pains in order to maintain a semblance of normalcy, while the actual seeds of happiness are dormant within, waiting to be nurtured.

Gardens touch the compassion in the heart and help healing take place. This has been well documented through reports of the positive impact of gardens in schools, hospitals, prisons, communities experiencing decay and depression and for disabled people, veterans struggling with impacts of war and at-risk youths.

Gardens for Humanity invites you to learn more about and support our garden, art and educational projects by visiting our website, www.gardensforhumanity.org. The success of our programs depends on the involvement and generosity of our community.

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