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Garden Therapy

Getting in Touch with Your Roots

by Laurie Charpentier, CEC


My introduction to gardening began with time spent in my grandfather’s garden. His suburban lot was no bigger than 10,000 square feet, but it was a sanctuary from the dysfunction of my immediate family. I spent weekends there, and my grandfather prided himself on his tomatoes - that was his favorite plant to grow. His wish was that someday I would buy a nursery and place him in charge of tomatoes. He also grew ornamentals, but not a wide variety, and he thought that wild violets were the best flowers growing. Some people in this area treat them as weeds, but he loved them.

As I grew older, got married and had children, I started my own garden. At the time I lived on a small pie shaped suburban lot which acted as a fork between two roads. I converted the yard into a garden – no lawn, just a meandering path with some arbors and beds defined by railroad ties. The result was amazing. I grew everything from vegetables and roses to herbs and perennials. By that time, my grandfather was slowing down and was diagnosed with Emphysema. He was easily winded and could no longer work in the garden. My sisters and I would take turns mowing his lawn, but he had given up on his tomatoes. I wish now that I had known about the concept of Horticultural (or Garden) Therapy back then. I realize now that by mowing the lawn for him, we probably made him feel worse. It was probably a reminder of what he could no longer do. By employing some adaptive devices, I may have been able to prolong his gardening activities and thus help him to maintain some dignity, pride and independence.

One Father’s Day, my gift to him was the creation of an L-shaped perennial garden where his vegetable garden once was. I dug it out, amended the soil, brought him some divisions from my garden and added some nursery-bought plants. The new garden included hostas, roses, iris, lamb’s ear, daffodils, lilies, mums and, of course, wild violets. He visited the garden every day to see what was blooming, to water, and to sit a while. That garden drew him outside each day for a few more years until he could no longer leave the house. The following winter, he passed away.

The next few chapters of my life found me moving twice and facing many challenges. New gardens sprouted with every move and I continued to grow along side my plants. I have always found great solace in the garden – it is where I’ve lost time and connected to Self. It has been my restoration, my solace and my active meditation. It has been my constant.

My present life finds me weaving the roots of gardening into my vocation. My healing practice combines holistic life coaching, Reiki and the principles of Horticultural Therapy into “Garden Therapy”: a unique healing treatment for women in transition. I use gardening, garden imagery and garden-based ceremonies and rituals to help move women from a place of stagnation and pain to a place of forgiveness, openness and movement. They identify with garden images – either because of their own childhood memories or the comfort of nature, but whatever the reason, it seems to work.

The garden serves as a metaphor for our emotional health and garden therapy recognizes this fact. For instance, a person can be “root bound”. This means they are so stuck in their ways, that those habits and beliefs are strangling the life out of them. Until some of those “roots”, or outdated beliefs are “pruned”, that person will wither on the vine, never recognizing their true potential. Most people can identify with the use of garden metaphors when discussing their problems. By having clients think in these terms, it forces them to really get in touch with and recognize their issues, emotions, hopes, fears and values. It’s a wonderful learning tool that I invite everyone to experience.

Exercise: Connecting to your Roots:

Your roots are the equivalent of combined experiences, belief systems, familial influences and your values system. Take a few moments to examine the health of your roots. List all of your values, qualifying each one with a short sentence or two about what that value means. (i.e., if we both had “freedom” as a value, it would mean different things to both of us, so what does it mean to you?). Be specific.

Next, rank them in order of importance, with #1 being the most important. Then look at how you are living each value in reality. If you say freedom is #1 for you, yet in reality you are stifled, stuck in a job or relationship you hate, doing the same thing every day, then you are not being true to that value’s importance - you are not living in integrity.

Once that’s complete you have a pretty good picture of your values and where you are falling short with being in integrity with those values. Next look at your belief system and life experiences. Are there any self-limiting beliefs or past experiences that maybe at one time served you in some way, but no longer do? Get rid of them! This is the equivalent of weeding. (This is where coaching and garden therapy can be used, as this can sometimes be difficult to achieve without help.) Incidentally, even negative experiences contribute something positive – it acts as fertilizer for our roots and becomes part of who we are, so acknowledge its contribution, then send it on its way.

Finally, make a list of things you are grateful for in your life. Be specific and take your time. You may want to build your list a little everyday. A daily practice of gratitude puts us in a positive frame of mind. This positive energy acts as water for our roots, helping us to grow as people and leaving us with a spirit open to accepting love and abundance in our lives.

Laurie Charpentier is a professional Life Coach, Advanced Usui Reiki practitioner, Garden Therapist and owner of Garden’s Path Healing Therapies. She has an educational background in Psychology, Mental Health and Rehabilitative Services and Horticultural Therapy. She is a member of the International Coaching Federation and the American Horticultural Therapy Association. Laurie lives and works on her and her husband’s ten acre farm in Hope Valley, RI. For more information, visit www.gardenspathhealing.com or call (401) 364-7600.


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