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I belong to a few groups on Facebook; I think it’s the best part about social media.

Many of them are for advocacy and information for parents of kids with disabilities, some rare disease forums, a Bible study and one for do-it-yourself renovations and decor. But by far, my favorite groups are the one for chicken-raisers and gardening.

For the most part, these groups are not political and mostly patient and respectful with people who are new to chicken-raising and gardening.

If there is one good thing that came out of this pandemic year — and I think there are many others — it’s the fact that Americans are rediscovering the natural world- particularly in their own backyard.

The gardening group is particularly interesting because people are sharing years worth of time and effort poured into their gardens.

Some gardens are large and well-manicured. Some gardeners plant in containers to conserve spaces. The group is a judgment-free space where people who love gardening can ask questions, share tips and even swap plants to expand the variety in our personal spaces.

I especially love the way gardeners share where to find particular plants and sales at local nurseries across Long Island. It’s really an informative and friendly group.

One post in the group brought me back to my early days of gardening. A woman was thanking the group for all the information and told us that she realized that to have the kind of garden she wanted, she needs a second job and a new house with a lot of land.

I remember when I felt that way. But years of gardening has taught me that every garden begins with a single seed.

The gardener’s post reminded me of when my husband and I used to drive around on Sundays with our kids admiring other peoples’ houses and yards.

We used to see landscapers working on yards and comment to one another that when we have a house we will do all the work by ourselves.

Twenty-eight years, four kids, three houses, many gardens and some joint replacements later, we are none too proud to ask for help as we can afford it.

Still, gardening and working outside in nature helps clear my head and gives me greater mental and physical strength to face the day to day challenges of life.

I have never really thought of myself as a master gardener, but I have learned a few things in almost 30 years of tending our own gardens.

Truth be told, I am a messy gardener. I like plants that naturalize well and have long-lasting blooms that look good even when I neglect them because of long hospital stays or physical exhaustion.

As a messy gardener, I leave a lot up to God and his beautiful little messengers, the birds and the bees.

From those very early days of living in apartments in other people’s houses, I learned to use what I had to get my hands in the dirt.

In those early years of parenting, sometimes all we had was a container outside of our rental. It was good enough to plant some zinnias and sunflowers to brighten our days.

Gardening has taught me to plan and plant for the long game and to enjoy the beauty of each season as it comes.

Our first house was a very tiny house behind a shopping center up west on Long Island.

We lived there for seven years and there I learned the difference between an annual and perennial and how to get the most yield of vegetables from little tight spaces.

The key is to follow the sun and plant accordingly.

That little house and backyard provided us with a sweet season for our family of fire pit dinners, stories, hours to plant and play- even while battling drug users and dumpster fires in the shopping center behind us and the dead-end street beside our home.

We stayed there and grew our family and our garden until finally our house was vandalized and then broken into while I was out food shopping with the kids. It was time to leave the garden and start a new life on the North Fork.

The next garden was literally an empty canvas — a muddy farm field with a house placed down in the middle. Planting a garden from scratch is a challenge. But when you’re on a budget and love to garden, you figure out how to make it work.

Still in our 30s, we grew our gardens with seeds, by shopping at clearance sales and by helping others to tend their own gardens in return for cuttings of perennials.

It takes patience to grow mature gardens. By the time we sold our first house on the North Fork, we were gardening that land for 20 years.

The perennial gardens, which began with plants from clearance sales and friends’ gardens, coupled with a view of the North Fork sky, helped us sell our home, enabling us to purchase our final home only miles away — but closer to the Long Island Sound.

This is our fourth summer in this house and finally we are winning the battle against the weeds and the invasive locust trees that broke pipes and concrete and covered the natural beauty of this land.

For the first year since we moved here we noticed the fragrant scent and beautiful white blooms that grace the locust trees in the spring. Now that they aren’t taking over the property, we could enjoy their fragrant spring display.

COVID shut-downs gave us more time to attend to the yard and gardens and find natural solutions to control ticks, rodents and to coexist with visits from the wildlife in the woodlands behind us.

By the end of the growing season last fall, I still had energy for planting daffodils which rewarded my efforts this spring.

Gardening teaches us patience and determination as we learn to cooperate with both creation and the creator. There are many life lessons that can be learned and problems solved by working in the garden.

It all begins with planting a single seed.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen