Five Things that Make Gardening So Therapeutic

Five Things that Make Gardening So Therapeutic

A few decades ago I came home thoroughly exhausted from my day at work. I was bone tired, and signaled my goal to take a rare 20 minute nap before dinner while my husband kept an eye on the kids. Then, the most remarkable thing happened. As I found myself outside looking at a few weeds in a flower-bed next to the driveway, I thought I’d pull a few out and then take that nap. What happened? Thirty minutes later the bed was weeded and every trace of tiredness was gone. Vanished. It was like mother earth had injected me with some kind of energy tonic as I dug in the dirt.

This is a departure. This is my first lifestyle article, written for the purpose of celebrating what has been and still is a lifeline for many in these days of the Covid pandemic. Learning about gardening and enjoying the journey of developing a beautiful, well-kept garden is healing and deeply, almost mystically restorative.

If you’re looking for my business articles, here’s a partial list of my posts on the topics of leadership, change and transition, setting goals, performance, groups and teams, and trust

1. Weeds can Steal your Joy AND are Therapeutic to Vanquish

There’s nothing like declaring victory over pernicious weeds, especially without using harmful chemicals. Our first home was a former rental bought on a land contract. Remember those in the 80s? We soon found many portions of the yard full of, what, spaghetti? Nay, we stumbled upon one of the most pernicious weeds ever, bindweed, a.k.a. Convolvulus arvensis. Suffice it to say that we moved before we had any hope of beating back this deep rooted cousin of the morning glory that had infested lawn, garden beds, everything! At our new home, on an acre, we found new weed foes: poison ivy, quackgrass, creeping charlie, horsetail and thistle. I’ll save the poison ivy and horsetail for another day, and concentrate on these three from least, to worst in my opinion:

  • Creeping Charlie, (Glechoma hederacea), also commonly known as ground ivy, is a member of the mint family and spreads almost as aggressively by runners on top of the soil. It’s pretty and does smell nice. A less aggressive version, Variegata, is sold in nurseries as a cascading filler for planters. However, in the garden it can quickly infiltrate garden beds competing with your favorite flowers for nutrients.
  • Quackgrass, (Elymus repens), is an ashy green-gray coarse grass that spreads aggressively in lawns and gardens via thuggish underground rhizomes and runners. It delights in and can take almost permanent residence in poor soils. Richer soils make its white runners easier to spot. In poor soil, which it prefers, I’ve had to use a mini-pick axe to chop it out. (Tools pictured below.)
  • Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense, is an aggressive, perennial weed that spreads via a robust, sneaky underground network of roots and runners. It infests farm fields, pastures, rangeland, roadsides and gardens nationwide. Infestations often start on disturbed ground. Therein lies the wisdom, one year’s seeds, 10 years of weeds. Cut off those seed heads when you see them no matter what.

These weeds are tough. But you can be tougher. The satisfaction that comes from beating back these garden thugs is long lasting. A well tended garden free of these common invaders creates quite a beautiful feeling. For how to, read on.

2. Persistence Pays Off Handsomely

The weeds listed above are not one and done, especially when it comes to quackgrass and other so called “uncontrollables.” The secret is to be more persistent and vigilant than the weeds. THE best time to attack these beasties are in early spring, when the insolent sprouts show themselves and DARE you to battle. My favorite fighting tools: a cobra hooked-end weeder, mini-chopping tools and a sturdy, narrow shovel used to dig, dig, dig. (Rest-in-glory, dear father-in-law who shared many garden wisdom gems with me, and passed on his excellent shovel.) It’s best to weed after recent rain when the ground is soft.

2021 flower bed reclaimed from thistles

In some cases you may need to dig out an entire garden bed. This may be the only way to clean out a large infestation of perennial (regrows every year) weeds. You will need to pot up or heel in plants and shrubs that were living in that weed tortured bed and nurture them separately for awhile. (Heel in = to transplant in a mound of dirt somewhere else.) Then, admiring perhaps a day or two of what seems like cleansed soil, WAIT. This allows time for new shoots, like bits of quackgrass rhizomes resprouting, to now reveal their hiding places. You may need a month or two of time to clear all the new weed second string invaders as they show themselves. Then replant. The results from this effort are long lasting.

Twisted roots on a dandelion and my favorite shovel for weeding

Plan on a few years going after the sneakiest sprout, the most devilish sideways taproot. In the end, if you keep at it, you. will. win! (Hence item #1.)

Pictured: Sideways roots on dandelions. Tools used to de-weed heavy infestations.

3. Mulch is a Gardener’s Best Friend

We garden organically. The garden shown here had many thistles that were mulched over extensively in 2014. MULCH is one of the best, organic ways to fight weeds, and did end up putting an end to thistles that had infested that garden spot years earlier. Save brown paper sacks and the non-colored parts of newsprint to put under the mulch. Printers now use soy-based inks, safe for gardens. Add on top 2-3 inches of mulch.

If the goal is simply to eliminate weeds, 2-3 inches of anything organic that blocks light will work, preferably 3 inches. To nourish the soil over time, something that composts more quickly, like leaf mold, makes sense. Mulch will not kill all weeds, but it will surely slow them down. The contrast of mulch with a errant dandelion or clump of quackgrass attempting to reestablish itself will be like arrow in neon lights => chop me out! And once it’s gone, how fine that is!

The mulch bonus: You can plant flowers and veggies in mulch, as you continue suppressing weeds. Sow some calendulas, four o-clocks or marigolds in a veggie garden fenced border. Seeing flowers dance happily above mulched soil, soaking up sunlight is a very fine thing.

There are many things you can use for a healthy mulch. Leaf mold, shredded leaves, straw, bagged cedar or cypress mulch, even corn cobs, or wood chips. Wood products are especially good for suppressing weeds.

Check out ChipDrop for free mulch and similar arborist-based online services and smart phone apps.

Pictured: Lasagna-style flower beds in progress. Less lawn, more flowers including many bee-friendly plants.

Mulch makes for happier plants, keeps in moisture (greatly reduces watering needs), builds up the soil, and is earthworm friendly. Organic farmers rely upon organic mulches due to their availability, low cost and natural ingredients.

4. Enjoy the Garden Moments

Take time to notice what you revel in when you enjoy your first garden plants. I remember being all of twelve years old planting a handful of petunias in a spot by the back door. Within a few weeks I was surprised to at how that little bit of effort caught my eye a few weeks later. I was unexpectedly rewarded by a lush, carpet-like velvety purple flush of blooms, as if to say, AH, we have ROOM to grow. Thank you! Cherish how the gardener in you grows no matter when you start growing things or how well you plan out your first gardens.

Whether it’s a pretty pot of petunias or violas near a shady reading spot, or a new cottage garden bed of bee balm and zinnias nourishing bees and butterflies, celebrate those moments of delight. Take a mindful pause to enjoy what you have crafted with your plant companions. Savor them. It is the journey and the destination, both. Make sure there’s a place you can sit and simply take it in.

Making choices in the garden is an art. Your garden design sensibilities will develop especially well if you take the time to notice what you enjoy the most throughout the garden seasons.

5. Enjoy How Your Plant Choices Evolve

There will be times our plants fail to thrive. It’s an integral part of learning to be humble as a gardener, novice or expert. The revered host, Monty Don, of long running Gardeners World TV show fame in the garden-centric UK says, “Even the greatest master – the true expert – is only scratching the surface of the incredible complexity and subtlety in their garden.” So, take setbacks in stride. Experience, reading & gardening friends will help you learn how having the right plant, in the right place, blooming and perhaps producing delicious fruit. That reward, simply and deliciously, is one of life’s enduring joys.

Solomon’s Seal in the spring garden

“Even the greatest master – the true expert – is only scratching the surface of the incredible complexity and subtlety in their garden.”

Monty Don


Gardening Know How: Best Vegetable Mulch: Learn About Mulch For Vegetable Plants

Down to Earth, Monty Don, (DK, 2019)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Leadership Quality Wins: Moving Beyond 10,000 Hours

What wins the race? It is the leadership quality and finesse of multiple factors that wins, not the novice conceit of speed, or the number of hours of practice. From the book, “Inner Speed Secrets: Mental Strategies to Maximize Your Racing Performance,” by Ronn Langford and Ross Bentley share insights into the nuances that also apply to leadership.

Continue reading “Leadership Quality Wins: Moving Beyond 10,000 Hours”

Prioritizing through Tragedy, War, Conflict and Peace

By Unknown U.S. Army photographer, Wikimedia CC

Every moment offers a choice. As we experience national level stress, it’s helpful to consider that smart, adaptive planning, through complexity, is essential to leadership, in tough times. What helps is to focus on the important while managing the urgent? As I wrote this post originally, the United States was dealing with the…

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5 Strategies to Lead Change Using Liberating Structures, DPPE

Featured: Five key concepts and supporting research and tools will help you lead through adaptive change in a VUCA world, one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, as presented in Mexico City for CPA firm leaders at the Russell Bedford International conference, yet applicable for any leader.Continue reading “5 Strategies to Lead Change Using Liberating Structures, DPPE”

One Overlooked Element that Can Stop or Supercharge Any Project, DPPE

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Leaders know that good data is essential to good decisions. But what data? Finding the right data, at the right time, from the right sources is critical.Data is the first of four elements from a simple acronym DPPE. It stands for Data, Purpose, Plan, Evaluate.  Continue reading “One Overlooked Element that Can Stop or Supercharge Any Project, DPPE”

Seven Ways New NonProfit Leaders Succeed the First Year on the Job

Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park
Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park

Leadership skill is built upon skilled listening, including listening to yourself for health and wellness.  Busy leaders know intellectually that taking care of yourself is how you are best able to take care of others.  The challenge, in this part three of our series, continues to be putting this principle into disciplined, regular practice.  Leadership coaching, as my clients have told me, has helped leaders:Continue reading “Seven Ways New NonProfit Leaders Succeed the First Year on the Job”

Nonprofit Leader Partnerships: How to Achieve the Right Balance

Crew Sunset II Jolene Knapp 2015

Like a well-played symphony, when nonprofit leaders partner well with their board, staff and volunteers, magic happens.  Though a board of directors or council holds ultimate legal and fiduciary responsibility, true success requires a solid partnership between the chief executive officer (or staff officer) (CEO / CSO) and chief elected officer, a board chair or council president.

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Courage for New Leaders To Listen and Learn in the New Year

Campfire Courage Quote pic

It takes courage to listen. Whether it’s a first or fifth transition to a new leader role, these non-profit leadership lessons learned are timeless. Pause, reflect, choose (from horse-guided leadership & learning.) In your first months, resist the urgent and not important tasks and follow these practical steps to ensure your success.  

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Leaders Know Talent Wins: 4 Strategies to Ramp Up Retention

Trust: Photo by notsogoodphotography
Trust: Photo by notsogoodphotography

Successful organizations focus on people as well as profits, often built with talented staff that take action as co-owners of the business. Twenty-first century talent retention practices can build greater success in your organization. Here’s are 4 ways leaders can help this happen:

1) Check your “hire smart” bench strength & compensation
Nothing breeds success like talented staff and the ability to pay them at the going market rate or better. Nothing works right if you don’t have these two basics as your foundation. Make sure your hiring process is top-notch using behavioral and performance based questions and follow-through. Don’t hesitate to make a change if staffing mistakes have been holding your business back from success.

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4 Leadership Lessons from Horse-Guided Coaching

Patience important horse meme Deb Cherokee

What can a 1200 pound horse teach you about leadership? In 2010, I found out as Cherokee walked up and chose me in an experience that has forever changed the way I relate to both people and animals in my professional and personal work as a coach and consultant. The photos below reflect my early experiences working with horses as a learner and a future coaching partner.

What I learned, from Horseplay and mindfulness practices included:

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