Dirt Therapy: Finding Peace Among Flowers

Therapeutic gardens can provide for a renewed spirit and life

Marianne Taylor

By Marianne Taylor

It happened so quickly. Not a lot of time to react. The punches, the screaming, yelling for neighbors to help in our time of distress. It was over in less than three minutes, although it felt like an eternity. Adrenaline pumping, clothes intact, a little disheveled hair, but really, a case of shock and disbelief over the attack on my husband, the mayor.

I went inward, only to come out stronger. This is a story of healing in the garden.

I have always found the garden to be a place of calm, tranquility and restorative self-reflection. Through the years of growing a family, I would find myself walking away from the daily mindless chores that await us each day by taking the kids and turning to the great outdoors. The fresh air, colors and textures and the smells and sounds of nature were an automatic energy boost.

We’d find a patch of dirt that needed attention and redirect its use. It all began with scattering sunflower seeds in those barren areas. Before I knew it, we had dozens of these 10-foot monolithic sunflowers, swaying in the breeze, greeting the neighborhood. Then came the hollyhocks, pumpkins, salvias, primroses, native grasses, poppies and bunches and bunches of Dutch yellow iris.

The flowers didn’t stop. Year after year, season after season, the gardens grew and with them so did my confidence as a person, mother, wife and gardener. I was on a quest to find that quiet secret garden, that space we all seek when we need new perspective, restoration, peace and serenity.

My passion for growing gardens became a reality in 2009, when Goin Native was launched to teach people of all ages and abilities how to garden for health and home. The business grew and people learned new practices and gained personal successes in the gardens.

After the attack, I quit gardening. Violated and angry, inward I went.

By June 2013, I took the signs down and closed Goin Native. It was my time to go into the cocoon and be still. This was an uneasy place to be, but I accepted it and rested.

As fate would have it, three months later, I had a visit from two wonderful women who ran a program though the Capistrano Unified School District called Adult Transition Workability, which helps adults 18-22 with simple skills and tools for a productive life. Would I allow them to volunteer in the garden at Los Rios Park, they asked.

I said, “of course.” I had no clue what would happen next, how this program would run or who would show up and be capable of taking on this role. At the turning point, I emerged from my cocoon to help the students succeed in their mission of confidence, courage and connecting with their environment and others. Little did I know, they helped me.

Eight months later, the Los Rios Park gardens have emerged as a certified butterfly sanctuary in part to these wonderful dedicated students and teachers who arrive every Thursday for one hour. I’ve changed their names to protect their privacy.

Amanda rarely engaged in conversation, but after a few months of working at the park, she is now speaking openly. Joey, who arrived agitated every week and repeated the same phrase, is now a calm, focused green thumb. Nelson has become a leader in the garden, introducing new students to the program and sharing plant and design. Brandon takes charge of getting the tools out of the utility room and always puts them neatly away. All work cooperatively and have a duty, plan and purpose. After leaving the park, they arrive back in the classroom, calm, relaxed and focused.

Gardening is affecting their lives, one by one. Therapeutic gardening is becoming a mode of helping people connect to their environment and their personal lives. Recent articles in medical journals are coming to the same conclusion: Gardening helps calm the mind and spirit and creates a connection between people and their environment. Therapeutic gardens can be found in hospitals, adult day cares, rehabilitation centers, chemotherapy facilities, vocational schools, arboretums and faith-based settings. Outdoor time makes for a better person. Exposure to nature makes people more caring and community-minded.

Through the process, Goin Native has also transformed to a nonprofit, Goin Native Therapeutic Gardens. We’re committed to providing horticultural education, emotional and physical rehabilitation and practical life skills to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds—all while promoting environmental sustainability and saving community resources.

Nature teaches, calms and redirects our path. Healing can be found in the garden. Join me any Thursday at Los Rios Park. There’s plenty of room for another garden friend to tend to the butterflies.

Send your gardening questions, comments or ideas to goinnative@gmail.com.

Marianne Taylor is a 24-year resident of San Juan Capistrano, in the Los Rios Historic District. She is married to City Councilman John Taylor and mother to 24-year-old Harrison and 16-year-old Claire. She is the executive director and “dirt therapist” for Goin Native.

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One Response to “Dirt Therapy: Finding Peace Among Flowers”

  1. Kelly Blank
    May 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I have always envied her energy and her gardens. She has put her blood, sweat and tears into everything in her surroundings and I find great comfort both in and out of her yards. Great article Marianne. Thanks for sharing your story.~ Kelly

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