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GARDENS FOR HUMANITY: Can Gardening be Creative?

(Photo courtesy Richard Sidy)

(Photo courtesy Richard Sidy)

Gardening for me, is a process of asking and answering questions, and the answers often come from non-human beings. Taking a walk in the garden is always an inspiration. Broad patches of wild violets that I didn’t plant are growing in places I would not have thought to plant them. This raises the question, “Who is in control?”

At its best, creativity in the garden is co-creating. Creativity uses imagination, talent, and intention. What are the limits of willing to make a garden a certain way? To me the creativity in gardening is observing, solving problems, caretaking, and working to merge what we have and what we want.

The assets in our gardens are really abundant, but seem too often to have a will of their own. We work with Nature and must respect its cycles, the multitude of life forms it supports, and the macro- and microclimates we are dealing with. Add to those the history of the space we wish to garden, existing native plants, and the variables of soils, sun, wind, and shade exposure that define our space.

In many ways when we garden, Nature is our teacher and, if we pay attention, we are willing partners. So when I find myself talking to plants, insects, reptiles, other critters, and even to the wind and the moon, I end up with some questions for myself: Am I crazy? Am I lonely? Am I out of my body? I take solace in the fact that a crazy person would not ask that. I really have a kinship with all creatures, living and non-living, so I’m not lonely. The dirt under my fingernails, and the scrapes on my arms assure me that I am definitely grounded in my body!

During the awakening of spring the “voices” of the garden are loud and clear. They tell me in their own unmistakable language that, no matter what I want, Nature has its own schedule, timing, and requirements. I see vibrant flowers and leaves of wild violets blanketing the garden after a cover of snow melts. In the midst of frigid nights bulbs are shooting up – tulips, narcissus, and garlic. I see young sprouts of perennial plants emerging from their dried and dormant state, and animals, birds, and insects are increasingly active.

In that context, creativity becomes “working with Nature.” The human element is in design, choices, and the ability to work with the gifts of Nature. Since plants are living beings, we have a palette of opportunities if we know how to use it. In terms of creative gardening, it is more an awareness of how we can help and work with different lives and forces that would thrive in our garden space.

Gardening can be many things: recreation, a healthy excuse to spend time outdoors, a time of contemplation away from day-to-day concerns; a chance to interact with the natural, living world. What makes gardening a creative experience rather than a chore is identifying with the creative forces of Nature and becoming part of them. It can be work that provides many healthy benefits such as food, beautiful flowers, a healthy outlook, a sanctuary of retreat, and a sense of peace.

As spring energizes Nature, the awakening of life signals renewal and brings us hope. We see this in our Learning Gardens where children excitedly explore soil, seeds, plants, water, climate, and critters. Gardens provide a joyful way for kids to learn and develop essential skills to live a happier, healthier, more connected life. This shows us the real creative benefit of gardening. Visit our website to learn more about our creative gardening programs:

Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email president@ .

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