THE BLOG

Garden Instead of Lawns in Beverly Hills: An Update

08/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA

My son planted a no-dig garden this summer as part of his Senior Thesis for the University of Vermont (posted June 25, 2009). Today we stood in awe at a 6' tall tomato plant (one of four) that have some 4-6 tomatoes ripening as I write this post.

The garden has done so much more than I ever imagined it could or would.

The sense of pride, care, loving kindness, and gratitude that flows from a little sprig of rosemary or a leaf of sage or an edible marigold flower is pretty palpable. It is as if we have added a family of sorts growing right in our backyard. I wander out there daily to just check in on the new seedlings (infants), the sprouts (childhood), emerging fruit (adolescence), mature plants (adulthood) and then their demise (aging) and ultimate death.

The diversity of plants, their various stages of growth, the problems (aphids/slugs) and hazards (heat, infection, underwater, overwater) all reflect a metaphor for the life of our family and all families worldwide.

On his balcony where my son 'starts' his seeds, some plants were placed too close together and suffered from a widespread plague of pests. Separated, sprayed with an organic solution my son concocted, they came back vibrantly to life.

I know a garden has long been a metaphor of life yet growing it in my backyard made it ever so vivid. A garden has ups and downs like those of life that we each and all endure. And yet the garden is also a place of profound beauty, of nurturance, of peace, and of individual growth.

My son planted certain plants to keep predators away (marigolds for example) and he's educating me on the ways to 'harvest' plants and the times to do so. A novice before this project, I'm discovering that I can care for ours now even without his direction (at least for a week or two).

He was away for a week and I found myself checking the leaves, feeling the soil, making sure our plants were receiving just enough water and space and were being cared for and harvested just the right amount. I found the care I used to give my children when they were young (now in college or living away from home) being transferred right over to the arugula and swiss chard. It is a useful substitution of sorts for the 'empty nest' syndrome many mothers face as their children move away from home.

And on top of all the love that has burst forth in honor of our garden, my other children and husband are attending to the produce and beauty it brings. Yesterday my daughter and son ate a peach off his peach tree and made pesto pasta from the basil. My daughter couldn't get over how incredible the peach was, juicy and ripe from the afternoon sun, while the pesto pasta was vibrant and green with immediate freshness. She's as sold as am I on the value of the garden, but my husband is too. He wasn't up for eating the marigold while my son was gone (didn't trust that I knew which one was the edible vs. decorative ones) but he cherishes its look and loves the arugula salads we make.

And on top of all this, we have 3,000 worms creating rich compost from our leftover garbage - in a worm compost on the side of our house.

I can't wait to see how attached I might get to those!