Making Health a Priority: Gardening ... and grace

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

Gardening. It's one of the ultimate health-promoting activities. Physical activity, being in nature, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, producing healthy food to nourish your body ... . What could be more healthy than that?

I have some wonderful memories of gardening with my husband and kids ...

And some not-so-great memories ...

I don't take as many pictures of those memories, but they are imprinted in my mind -- overgrown (or dead) plants, abundant weeds, sweltering heat, and oh-so-many bugs.

The Dream

Every year I get these romantic ideas about gardening. I fantasize that my kids, my husband, and I will plant the perfect vegetable garden. We will blissfully work with the soil, plants, and water. My husband and I will teach the kids about plant biology. Weeds, bugs, and animals will stay out of our perfect garden. The kids will eagerly pick our beautiful vegetables each day. We will prepare healthy meals with our vegetables and enjoy delicious family dinners together.

The Reality

It never plays out quite like that. The weeds, bugs, and animals don't adhere to my plan. And the kids don't keep up with their part of the bargain, either. So by this time of year, it's usually my husband and I feeling overwhelmed by a garden we haven't done the best job keeping up with. (We always enjoy eating the vegetables, though!)

The truth is, I do well in the planning, planting, and early growth stages of gardening. The maintenance stages, on the other hand .... Well, I'm not quite as good at that. By this time of year, I'm often experiencing:

  • Stress of "yet another thing" on the to-do list
  • Frustration that "life got in the way" and we didn't keep up with the garden like we had planned
  • Fear that if we enter our overgrown garden, we might not make it out alive :)
  • Guilt over wasted produce

Wait a second, isn't this supposed to be a healthy activity?!

But this year is different. I have none of those problems. Not because my gardening skills have flourished. Because my garden never ... got ... planted ... .

I know, it's sad. The main reason is because we weren't living in our house during the month of May (when we would normally plant our garden), due to house renovations. We also didn't have water hooked up during that time. 

So, unfortunately, this summer I'm spending more money for vegetables that taste less good. (Because you just can't beat home-grown.)


My friend Jen Nelson has a PhD in horticulture. She writes a blog called Grounded and Growing, where she writes about topics like gardening and simple living. Earlier this year she wrote a post about gardening with small kiddos.

Jen writes, "I’ve loved gardening for as long as I can remember. It’s not a chore for me. It’s part of my Zen, part of what makes all things right with my world." (Hmm... I wonder what that's like.)  

Jen goes on to write about how, once she had kids, she didn't have as much time to devote to gardening. She writes, "My garden kept growing and so did my frustration and anxiety." (OK, now you're speaking my language ... .)

Her first summer with kids, she admits, "We barely kept our heads above water." (Really? You, too?!)

Her post gives some great tips on what is working for her family these days.

Jen gives a wonderful piece of advice that I wanted to share: 

"You have to give yourself grace. And then give yourself grace again."

Her words are a breath of fresh air. These days there's a great deal of pressure to be good at everything. A lot of stress can come from self-imposed expectations and never giving ourselves a break. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame.

Feelings of inadequacy, guilt and shame ... . We need to beware of these guys. They're not helpful, productive, or healthy. They weigh us down. They keep us focused on the negative instead of the positive. They hold us back instead of pushing us forward. If we're not careful, they'll turn our healthy activities into self-sabotage.

I appreciate Jen's advice and her honesty. It makes me feel better to know that even horticulturists sometimes struggle with their gardens. :)

So if your gardening started out with great intentions, but it hasn't panned out the way you had hoped, I encourage you to take Jen's advice, and give yourself some grace.

And keep this in mind: If you get ONE fresh vegetable from your garden this year, you're doing better than I am.

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post — along with helpful links to other resources — originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.