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Garden Therapy: Creating Your Own Special Retreat From the World

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It may be a few pots on a balcony or patio. It may be a small backyard where you lovingly nurture your veggies, fruit trees or flowers. It may be a 10x12 plot in a community garden or the section of a public garden that you tend. But no matter how small or large your garden therapy retreat, it can be a healing sanctuary, offering balm to the over-stressed, over-networked modern soul.

A true garden retreat is different from a merely practical place where you grow a few plants for food or try to impress the neighbors and raise your property values. There's something of the sacred about it -- a communion with nature, the plant spirits and the beauty of this amazing, mysterious universe we're a tiny part of. In this kind of garden, the bird bath, the wind chimes and the found garden "sculpture" or special stones aren't incidental -- they're important elements in the creation of a truly healing retreat.

Beauty, as archetypal psychologist James Hillman often reminds us in his many books, is soul food. So for our therapy gardens we want to choose plants and objects that call to us with great attraction.

Over the last decade, my husband and I have created a green living space full of beings and objects we fell in love with. It was the fruit trees that called to him and the roses that sang to me, so we have a permaculture backyard food forest full of fruit trees, heritage roses and other beautiful and tasty plants, creating a retreat that is both productive of delicious, super-fresh food for the body and year-round seasons of beauty soothing to the soul.

One of the special benefits of a garden retreat is that it slows us down to nature's pace. We learn to reconnect with the seasons and the elements. We are humbled by the simple forces that determine events in our little world. We are not in control. The rain, wind, sun and moon have their way here. And we share our space with millions of other living beings, small and not so small: the birds, insects, animals and soil creatures who were here long before we arrived and will probably continue long after we are gone. This is their land; we are privileged to share it with them.

In their book Your Brain on Nature: the Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality, Eva Selhub, M.D. and Alan Logan, N.D. outline the science that backs up our personal experience of the healing power of nature-connection -- even if it's just outside our back door. Study after study suggests that putting people back in touch with the rest of nature has a multitude of benefits for body, mind and soul.

Spring is a great time to start creating your own special garden. Even a few pots of herbs can provide healing and nourishment. Gardens -- even tiny ones -- can lower anxiety and lift our mood. And there's no way to quantify the intangible benefits and raised spirits that come from spending time enjoying and nurturing plants, animals, birds, fungi, bees, ladybugs and all the wondrous creation-in-miniature that live with you in your own special garden.

I feel that our gardens have a special function in times of stress. Whether we're suffering from public crises or private losses, all are soothed by time in the garden.

What are you planting this spring?

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