Lessons from a doctor's gardenSunday, May 09, 2021
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell
I have been told that I am obsessed with plants. Admittedly, it's true.
I grew up surrounded by lovely gardens. My maternal grandmother kept a garden in which she grew big, beautiful fragrant roses. My paternal grandma's garden contained more of a variety of plants. Granny Campbell would frequently pick a bush here and there, place them in a cheese tin and light them to produce a mosquito repellent, which did not irritate us. She would allow me to use the sap from one of her plants to remove the warts on her neck. I use to love doing that. My granny allowed me to practice medicine long before I became a doctor.
My mother had a penchant for growing plants — especially roses, orchids, gladioli, episcias, and begonias. The love of plants has been transferred to me from my grandmothers and mother.
Over the years, mummy and I would travel to various shops to purchase plants for our garden. One day as we travelled along Mandela Highway (before its development), she ordered that I stop and “retrieve” water lilies from a gully for the fish pond in our backyard. Our mutual love of plants strengthened our relationship as together we created a beautiful garden.
I could not deal with the garden after she passed. The gardener still cared for it, but it lacked that “personal touch”. Then one day, as I sat in the silence viewing the garden, I decided to return to being me — I returned to my roots. The garden is now my therapy.
I am not alone in thinking of my garden as therapeutic. Many of my patients share the same view. We spend quite a bit of time talking about our various gardens and challenges – especially regarding slugs.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has intensified my love of plants. I love to see flowers blooming around me. I love to water my plants early in the morning (it clears my mind and enables my problem-solving abilities) and spend a little time clipping a bush or leaf here or there. I love the feel of soil in my hands. This is a grounding experience; the simplest of actions can produce the most profound effects. I feel more connected to God and the Earth when I am digging up soil, having the dirt run through my fingers. When I am “drinking” in my garden, attending to the plants, I can forget all my responsibilities and stress and just be at peace, happy and filled with joy.
Sometimes after gardening I will take pictures of my plants and flowers and send via WhatsApp as “Greetings from my garden and me” to my friends and family.
In an article entitled 'Gardening in a pandemic', written by psychiatrist Dr Ahron Friedburg and published in Psychology Today, he stated that he spoke to his patients about gardening in the pandemic: “I realise why it has become so popular now. People want to be outside, while still in a protected space not exposed to crowds. They want to pull off their masks and not feel guilty.”
I have learnt many lessons from my garden.
There was a beautiful hibiscus plant which bloomed bright yellow flowers. I loved the plant and so did slugs. I decided that the destruction of the plant by the slugs should stop and I went to battle with them.
I used at different times blue soap pieces, coffee grounds, eggshells, and neem leaves scattered in the soil surrounding the hibiscus. I even made a beer slug trap, as seen on YouTube. I was so proud of the trap that I called my brother to view it; he was not impressed. What really happened was that the slugs drank the Red Stripe beer that was in the trap but did not die as I thought that they would.
I then resorted to using slug bait, which only worked for a short period of time. I also spent many nights in the garden, armed with a flashlight and salt, killing slugs. I was obsessed. However, the slugs continued to eat the hibiscus despite my best efforts.
One day, I decided to take a step back – going occasionally out in the night and killing the slugs. The plant lived for quite a while with its slug-battered leaves. Then it died.
Lessons learnt: Choose your battles; learn to live peaceably with all men; and let go.
Sometime ago I placed a small blooming sun Vanda in an island in the garden. The Vanda is now massive. I have given this plant all that I believe that it needs to thrive – twice daily watering, regular fertilisation, spraying against insects, and ample sunlight. However, the Vanda never bloomed again. I have found this interesting as the other Vandas in the garden bloom.
Lessons learnt: Patience; for everything there is a season.
The poui tree
I love yellow poui trees. There is a beautiful one on the front lawn. It produces the most spectacular display of yellow flowers. I love to park my car under the tree so that the flowers can fall on my car, enveloping it in a yellow blanket. I will drive this flower covered car on the road with the hope that I spread happiness as the flowers fall to the ground.
Years ago, when a relative got married, the guests were given trees as souvenirs. I took my gift home and placed it at the base of the poui tree. This gift grew into a most majestic neem tree, which has diminished the impact of the poui tree when it is blooming.
I decided that I wanted a poui tree in another part of the garden. I was told that the poui tree would not thrive in that area, but I was adamant that I wanted the tree in that spot. After I planted it, the tree began to look frail, it lost its leaves and I started to doubt my decision. Anyway, I continued to water and fertilise the tree. That poui tree is now big, strong, and blooming beautiful flowers – probably trying to be like the other big poui tree.
Lessons learnt: Inner beauty takes a while before it shines; bloom where you are planted; we all have a purpose.
There is a small area of my house that is referred to as “the jungle” by my friends and family. That area is my personal space and is filled with houseplants and books. I begin my day in the jungle – this is where I pray, meditate, connect with God, and lift my spirits, helping me on my journey to fulfil my purpose. I also end my day in the jungle – where I decompress, calm and ready myself for restorative sleep.
My jungle plants are teaching me patience as I watch them grow at their own pace. Those 20 and counting plants have personalities and I speak to them. I believe that they respond to my love and attention by growing. In fact, at the rate at which they are growing I was recently told, “This jungle cannot take even another leaf!”
Lessons learnt: Patience; I have got to be me!
After mummy died, I let her greenhouse fall to pieces. I relocated a few orchids, left the other plants to die, and neglected the structure. Every Mother's Day since her death, I would buy a plant in her memory. This year I decided that it is time to revitalise my mother's greenhouse. It has been repaired – revitalised shelving, new water system and pathway. I have restocked it with plants that I love while also adding an episcia and purple passion in her memory. I am not stocking the greenhouse with orchids. This/me are works in progress.
Lessons learnt: Build on the foundation; move on; do not focus on the rear-view mirror.
As we journey through the garden of life, may each step we take bring us delight, peace and love. Let us be centres of radiant light and life.
Happy Mother's Day to all who have mothered!
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer and pharmacologist. She is the author of the book “A patient's guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus.”
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