I love gardening. I simply love it. And I love growing roses in my garden. I currently have over 200 of them. When they bloom together in early spring, I feel I am in heaven. Thousands and thousands of happy rosebuds open themselves up to the elements in a display that is beyond words. My sons refuse to come indoors during early spring, they just sit outdoors for hours, gazing at the beauty. My older son – currently 13 – has made me promise that I will landscape his backyard one day. My younger son – 12 – says he doesn’t wish to leave home for college, because of the backyard. Me, I wish to die here in Fresno, in my backyard, with my roses blooming, when the time comes. Our backyard is a source of much beauty, pride and joy for us.
It was not always so. These here are the pictures from when we bought the house in 2005. It had a large backyard. That was my prime consideration – a large backyard. The house was relatively new, but not very well kept. The garden was huge, one could build another house on it, and it had a rudimentary sprinkler system, but the grass was wiry, with weeds, and a few trees all under 3 ft in height. On right side of the house and the garden, was a wired dogrun which made the backyard even uglier. As if that wasn’t enough, the underground sewer ran thru my propertyline, and had an airshaft opening at the the far end of the fence. It was a gaping eyesore. I spent many a night fantasizing about how to get ride of these two ugly parts of the property before I landscaped it. It was impossible to get the airshaft off, of course, but even the dogrun was bounded by 4 wooden poles that seemed to be cemented in place. In other words, I would have to employ someone to take that off. (More pictures of “before”). The sprinkler system was very elementary, and so the grass was not evenly green. During summer, it had patches of burnt up areas, where the grass became so wiry that it was impossible to walk on it. I loved gardens, but given my shoestring budget, I wondered what, or how, could I ever make this one work. I was enrolled in a Master’s Program in 2005, and then in parallel enrolled in a full time PhD program. I also worked three jobs and had young children to look after. My life had other trauma at the time – I had been embroiled in nasty divorce and custody battle. I felt spent, and used up, and lacked resources – time and/or financial – to expend on landscaping the backyard.
Life moved on and between 2005 and 2007 we grew used to the barren backyard. We camped there once in a while, complete with tents, campfire and cooking paraphenalia (the grass was so bad that I did not hesitate to burn wood on grass, without using a container), and sometimes me and my sons played baseball…but the grass felt like thorns, and the whole thing was too too ugly for my aesthetic self…and so we rarely went outdoors……until one morning in 2007 I found myself at Lowes, looking longingly at a large garden umbrella. The inexpensive umbrella reminded me of all the beautiful things that a garden can be. And that was a moment of great significance.
By the time I left Lowes that morning, I had ordered 30 palms, 20 redwoods, 15 fruit tress, and several other trees, dozens and dozens of roses, and landscaping material. I had no clue how I was going to arrange them, but these were things that I liked, and felt I needed to include in the plan. The decision to embark on this journey of landscaping my backyard into a beautiful garden, was born of a creative urge, an impulse that I simply felt I had to honor. Over the next few months, we all – me, my children, my gardener – worked hard and slowly the dream began taking shape in the external world.
In retrospect, I believe that the decision represented an instinctive strategy of escaping my trauma. The garden provided a compensatory factor that balanced my traumatised life, adding beauty and serenity that it lacked at the time
My psyche strove towards a place of peace and tranquility, allowing for transcendence and healing. I remember throwing myself into the landscaping plans with my customary zeal, and digging, digging, digging till there was nothing else left to dig. My kids would come home from school, throw their backpacks on the verandah, and beg “Can we dig, can we dig, please, please, please ? Where can we dig today?” We were all obsessed with creating beauty, which took our minds off of whatever was traumatic in our lives.
The initial phase took a year, but the exercise was tremendously healing for all of us. We – me and my children – bonded and healed thru gardening. Their values became more authentic, thru gardening. They learnt patience, compassion and tenderness thru gardening. By the end of the first year, I no longer had any emotional pain. It is as if by nurturing a piece of land and its constituents, I had buried the pain deep within the womb of the earth, I was instinctively made whole – without trying – by the simple process of gardening. Nature held my hand, and gave me an experiential understanding of how trauma could be healed through creativity. What I had read in my psych-books, the Jungian experience of healing, and what I worked with in the consulting room with my clients – the transformation of trauma thru creativity – had unknowingly become a part of my own experience, it had unfolded in my own life so instinctively.
My garden is approx 3 years old now. Like a child, it has gone thru tremendous growing pains. A lot of plants and trees did not survive the harsh summers of Fresno. Others perished in the cold winters of Fresno. I have had to come to grip with the process of loving, tending, and losing. We have agonised over options, choices and changes, we have planned, and then changed plans, and then changed them again and again and again. It has been like a dynamically changing drawing board where nothing is certain. Should I have a tree here, or there ? Will this rose look nice here, or there ? Why can’t I find this rose in local nurseries ? Can I afford to buy 20 roses – however special – at $20 per rose ? Do we need a pool, shall we put a koi pond, should we add a hot tub, or should we just let it remain a wooded, shady place ? We went thru all the steps, dug up the place for pool, then decided on a hot tub, changed our minds and settled on a koi pond, which proved too expensive, so now I prefer a simple pond. The layout changed, the resources, and landscaping, the plants changed, the length, width and depth of the hole that I and the kids had helped dig, changed, and then we changed our minds, and filled it up with filler sand, and decided that an intimate, sitting area with several sequoias would be perfect. I love camping at yosemite and the neighboring areas. A bunch of redwoods, I felt, would add a piece of that perfection into a corner of the backyard. Even though it takes a few years for the sequoias to mature….one day, I will perhaps have a mini-Yosemite like paradise under the redwoods, here, in my own backyard. The garden isn’t done yet – the creative work is never done/completed. There is always something more one can add/change to move a step further towards perfection. I am still waiting to add the small waterfall and the pond that we finally decided on. Perhaps by the end of this year most of that will be accomplished. The creative work itself goes on, forever.
The topology of the garden itself changes every year, it matures, evolves dynamically, and gives back all that we gave to it in its creation. It is a place where I contemplate, meditate, laugh, cry, wonder, hurt, feel happy, play, connect; where I listen to the sound of the birds, and the bees, hear sounds of running water, follow the butterflies and the lizards, entertain, be entertained, trampolinize (we have a HUGE trampoline), contemplate on the lives of the bugs and earthworms and learn about the ecosystem. It is not just a garden, it is a dynamic, living entity, a universe of its own, connected to several other independent universes,
including my self and my soul. The garden has taught me the meaning of interdependency, and about the cycles of life and death. Watching the process of birth, nourishment, hunger, blooms, fading, winterizing etc in the plant kingdom, has made me aware of the patterns of life that we share with plant life. I have developed an attitude of patience, compassion for their failure to thrive, and a tolerance for loss. I have grown into the realization that the periods of blooms (and of deadness too) are transitory, that they will end with the cycle. I understand the meaning and true nature of pregnancy thru watching the fruiting process. I understood the nature of diseases, and how and why it especially afflicts the most beautiful and fragrant roses in my garden. I watched the plants suffer the effect of malnutrition, and early childhood trauma, until I intervened. These are powerful insights, if we delve deeper. I understood how too much sunlight could harm, and too much shade could harm as well, and I correlated this to the masculine and feminine principles, to the unconscious and the conscious. I had insights related to aging process by watching flowers age. Deadheading the roses and watching the rebirth of the plants, is extremely meaningful and insightful too.
In the garden I developed a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for the patterns in nature, and archetypes. Long ago, in context of Dante’s Paradiso, my professor had once said “God speaks in the language of mathematics.” I experienced mathematics, and fractal geometry in my backyard. In that sense, the garden has been a revealer, a great teacher to me. It may seem that am its master, but I am also its slave. The plants let me know what they need, and I am honor bound to provide that. Perhaps there is no separation – perhaps the garden is me, and I am the garden? Above all, I have also grown into an awareness that the garden is not there in my backyard, but it is within me. It is an outcome of a creative force, a part and parcel of my beingness. I carry it within me, wherever I go. I can recreate it wherever I am. So when the time comes, although I would like to die here, in the beautiful surroundings that I created, or that created me, yet there is no attachment with the garden. I am at peace. Perhaps this peace is the intrinsic quality of nature. Nature gives, it creates, and it lets go. Perhaps my garden, and the process of gardening, has left me with this gift.
Thus continues the story of me and my beautiful garden. As a closing comment, I would like to emphasize that creativity is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. I know a few highly creative people, so in love with their own creative process and the products of their creativity (poems, art etc) that it has become an end for them. Creativity usually encompasses transformation of trauma, leading to highest emotional health. In order to fuel the process of creativity, sometimes people choose a traumatising life.This defeats the purpose of the holistic and healing nature of creative endeavors. Creativity then becomes a commodity, to enable a person to buy and sell the products…and that, to me, is a highly unethical proposition. To me, it is akin to abuse and exploitation of the psyche.