Our relationship to the plants that we cultivate enriches, calms, and feeds us. This year, in particular, people are rediscovering how deeply beneficial time spent gardening can be. Those in urban settings under shelter-in-place orders, who have had access to a balcony or rooftop garden, know well how much relief a few potted plants can bring. Meanwhile, suburbanites and rural folk, with access to larger plots, have taken inspiration from wartime victory gardens to create greater food security for their families.
Although the garden has proved to be an oasis and refuge during this period, with social-distancing guidelines in place, even the introverts among us may feel a twinge of nostalgia for the cookouts, potlucks, and birthday parties of last year. To keep each other safe, we are tasked with wearing masks and limiting our proximity to others; within these limits, therefore, we will need to be inventive, resilient, and resourceful to maintain our social ties. Luckily, our gardens have much more to offer than hermetic solitude.
Here are a few ways gardens can remain points of connection during a time of social distancing:
You can succession sow from spring to fall, but occasionally take inventory of your stock and make a list of what you can share. Seed-savers will frequently find themselves with more seeds than they can realistically use over the growing season. Share your list with neighbors and then pop the seeds into labeled envelopes. From there, you can arrange a no-touch drop-off at a porch or mailbox. You can also use our template to make your own illustrated Art Pack! Simple gestures like these can turn once anonymous neighbors into lifelong gardening pals.
Offer your labor
Weeding, outdoor watering, digging, mowing, hedge-clipping, and mulching, are all garden activities that can be done while actively social distancing. Next time your neighbor tells you about a garden project, offer to help—from a distance. Bring your own tools and mask and maybe a radio to play some tunes.
B-Y-O-P (Bring Your Own Picnic)
If you have plenty of space, follow the CDC’s advice for personal and social activities outdoors. Have guests bring their own blankets and picnic supplies, then catch up on old times and watch the clouds roll by. Limit your guest list and space six feet of distance between picnic blankets or chairs for each household. Plan for a shorter visit if indoor bathroom use will be off limits and make hand sanitizer available.
Give a garden tour
Invite a gardener friend to come by for a “socially-distanced garden tour.” Show them what you’re proud of this year, and compare notes on plantings. Gardens are as unique as the gardeners who tend them, so you are likely to learn something new from this exchange.
You can also suggest they bring a pair of snips or a soil knife to take home a piece of your garden. Many of us have clumps of perennials or irises that we need to split up and it’s nice to have a reminder of our friends growing in the garden. Invite your guest to pinch herbs or taste pea pods as they walk around your beds. Herb bundles and flowers also make lovely parting gifts.
Share the bounty
Who doesn’t love a homegrown tomato? Whether a simple bouquet of snapdragons or a paper bag full of beans, homegrown and handpicked gifts convey the gardener’s effort and care. Think of who you haven’t seen in a while and ask if you can bring them something from your garden.
Likewise, if you can’t keep up with your over-productive plants, ask your local food pantry if they accept fresh garden produce. Because of its limited shelf life, fresh produce tends to be infrequently donated, so your offer will likely be met with enthusiasm.
The Memory Garden
Did a good friend give you those pepper seeds? You can include this information on your plant markers. A marker with “David’s Rooftop Pepper,” for example, might be far more meaningful to you than the common name.
When visiting the garden, how nice it is to be reminded of the times we exchanged seeds, plants, labor, or harvests. What is shared with neighbors, family, and friends can take many forms—like a bowl of crunchy sugar snap peas left on your stoop or a juicy bite of watermelon grown from a seed pack left in your mailbox. A Heavenly Blue Morning Glory can, for example, revive the memory of an afternoon spent on picnic blankets under clear blue skies. So, take a tour of your garden and relive these sweet memories.
As many with access to a garden have come to appreciate, particularly this year, sowing seeds and growing plants in fresh air can do wonders for one’s state of mind. A few spiraling, green tendrils softly swaying on a breeze can, as if by magic, bring us back to the here and now and reduce a sense of urgency over that which is not truly urgent. The mental chatter lifts and our priorities become clear. How mysterious that pulling up weeds or sowing another row of beans can have this effect—and how wonderful to share these benefits with others.
Effective gardeners take precautions to minimize the spread of fungus, pests, and plant viruses in the garden. Similarly, we must be vigilant to minimize risks and keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy. One plant might withstand a disease far better than another plant—and the same goes for us. So, take precautions, stay safe, and make the most of your garden.