Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/17/06)

The benefits of gardening are many, beauty, fresh air and food, physical exercise, but perhaps the greatest is therapeutic. The emotional and psychological problems with which we are all beset are internally head-bound. They may have originated in external impressions and events, such an abusive childhood, a betrayal, a failure, an exclusion, a rebuff, a physical wound or limitation, an affliction, or maybe even an off-hand remark, but we archive them in our memories where voices from the past keep echoing down the hallways of our years. It’s called down time.

The up times are when we are called out of our archived memories by physical sensations in the present, such as, the aroma of a rose, the feel of a baby’ skin, a breath of fresh air, the taste of a good cheeseburger, the pain of a stubbed toe. The therapeutic secret of gardening is sensory attention. We are drawn out of the remembrances of things past into the existential moment. It’s also the reason that so many gardeners, like fisherman, are happy fanatics.

It is perhaps what William Blake had in mind in “Auguries of Innocence.”
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Effective psychotherapy is not so much about insight as it is about transformation, our transformation from being a victim and survivor into being a prevailer and a pilgrim. It means no longer driving by the rear-view mirror but through the windshield. Transformation turns old memories into new promises. Such is the paradigm of gardening.

For many, autumn is a postlude to summer and a prelude to winter, but for a gardener it is getting ready for spring. It means raking leaves, pruning perennials and trees, and pulling out dead annuals and putting all that refuse into a mulch pile where winter will silently turn it into compost. It means cleaning up the leavings of the past and turning them into nutrients for the future.

We change not so much by advice and insight, but by osmosis in which we absorb the process of change from others. A maimed veteran will more likely triumph over his or her disability if he or she is in the company of disabled conquerors. Being with transformative people is transformative in itself. Change is more likely caught than taught.

Just as psychotherapy is more about transformation than insight so it is more about process than issues, those processes by which we can transform our issues. Gardening is parsing the paradigm of the seasons of change. Paradoxically, the most productive season is winter in which the soil is given a rest to recuperate from the hustle and bustle of spring, summer, and autumn. Winter is a time to get ready for change, fruition, and harvest.

As we work through the seasons we see seeds transformed into plants, buds into flowers, blossoms into fruits, saplings into trees, and refuse into creation. As gardeners, we are part and parcel of the transformation. Everyday, each season, is a day and season of change, a change that seeps into our spirits through the dirt under our fingernails.

The therapy of gardening is more than a sanctuary or a refuge, it is a transformation by which gardening becomes a personal paradigm for parsing our archived memories into anticipations and fruitions.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/4/06)

Skye Sieber knew what she wanted when she landscaped her yard. She wanted beauty, specifically a beautiful yard. She also wanted a yard with authenticity, one that was a fit for Flagstaff and faithful to the Colorado Plateau. For her efforts she received an honorable mention in Flagstaff’s recent Xeriscape Contest. As a daughter of the Mountain West she was already aware of the scarcity of water. However, she liked lush beauty which meant she wanted an abundance of foliage and flowers which needed little water. She discovered that the best way to create such a yard was to go native.

One of the first things she did was sign up for the Master Gardener Course so that she could find out how to create a lovely yard in Flagstaff. She listened to the people at the Arboretum and several of the commercial nurseries. Skye soaks up information.

As an environmental planner for the Forest Service in Flagstaff and active in the community, she is a woman with little time to spare for her garden. She wanted a lush, low maintenance, drought-tolerant, authentically Southwestern yard. She created one, not ex nihilo, but by evolution out of dirt, rocks, ground glass, flagstone, plants, and grass. As with most gardeners in Flagstaff, she began with the tohu wabohu (Genesis 1:2) of a developer’s detritus.

She didn’t set out with a completed design in her head. Hers was not a graph paper, T-square, and triangle design. However, she knew what she wanted. The design gradually unfolded in her mind’s eye as she began working in her yard, taking horticultural courses, and bending the ears of knowledgeable people. She terraced her front yard because she had a pile of dirt left over from putting in an additionally driveway. Using the volcanic rock she and her husband Todd gathered with a Forest Service permit from A-1 Mountain, she built a three-tiered series of terraces dominated by a humming bird mint (Agastache) complete with bees and hummers.

Her front yard is rife with color and texture, both in the plants and rocks. A “hell strip” between the driveway and walkway is planted with a colorful variety of Artemisia, cat mint (Nepeta cataria), and a few native plants.

Authenticity of design means as few straight lines as possible. Nature does not believe in straight lines, and neither does Skye. As with most houses, hers and Todd’s is a series of right angles and rectangles, but her yard strolls as though she were mimicking nature. The terraces in the front yard are curved and asymmetrical. The plantings in the rectangular hell-strip don’t march lock-step but appear random.

The backyard was designed with people in mind as well as beauty. A path winds amongst various plantings, passing, as it goes, an arbor, a small meadow, a couple of chairs, some penstemon and natives, and onto a bench. In the back of the yard in ascending raised beds are tomatoes, vegetables, and herbs.

Of course, a part of authenticity in Southwest gardening is collecting rainwater and composting. Tucked unobtrusively here and there are water barrels and bins. Behind the house are two handmade wooden frames topped with bent plastic pipe. When covered, they portend fresh greens during the winter months.

Without spending vast sums of money, but jamming her head with information, and using lots of imagination Skye evolved a design and brought it to fruition. She created a yard which is not only faithful to the Southwest, but which also as a thing of beauty is a haven for the human spirit.
Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2006