Guest Blogs

“I Cultivate My Garden – and My Inner Peace”

“In my garden, I grow vegetables. I also grow serene.” Here, how green time helps adults with attention deficit relax and achieve mindfulness.

My love affair with all things dirt-y blossomed on a steep hill that backed up to a golf course in my tiny Louisville, Kentucky, yard. I’d aced “Horticulture for Non-Majors” at Michigan State, which had hooked me on growing indoor plants. But I’d never planted so much as a zinnia in that skinny little layer of the Earth’s crust that encircles our planet.

My mother-in-law at the time was emphatic that the hill was a perfect place for spring bulbs. So I obliged by ordering a beginner’s package of daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and crocuses. On a warm October afternoon, I tucked them deeply into the rocky, clay soil and promptly ignored them. And I fell back instantly into the daily demands of caring for an infant son and a toddler.

In early February, the first purple crocus surprised me by popping through the snow. Color in the dead of winter! When the bright red tulips and flashy narcissi exploded with blooms a few weeks later, I was hooked for the second time. I’ve been gardening ever since.

Although I love the beauty of flowers, my passion is vegetables – vegetable gardening, to be specific. Every year since then, I have poked seeds and plants into the soil and watched in awe as they sprout, unfold, flower, and bear fruit. That’s more than 30 years of homegrown tomatoes and an equal amount of time finding snippets of peace.

Research shows that ADHD brains are better able to pay attention, focus, and stay on track when they slow down a bit – be more mindful of the moment. There is no place more mindful for me than my veggie garden.

[[Self-Test] Do I Have ADHD?]

It is usually quiet in my garden. No insistent cell phone interrupts the silence; birds and the occasional airplane droning overhead are the only sounds. But my ADHD brain is oblivious to them. I am intent on caring for my plants. There are many tasks to be completed: weeding, fertilizing, watering when the rain stays away, checking for those pesky pests. I spend time organizing my garden shed, which often falls into disarray much as my office does.

In another setting, I might feel pressured by these unending tasks, but here, in my garden, the plants never complain. They are grateful for my attention. That’s probably the reason my ADHD brain loves gardening: There is no judgment inside my garden gate. If I do it wrong (and I have killed a lot of plants with too much or too little care), there is always another chance at redemption. There is another bed to plant, another variety of green beans with which to experiment, another year to do it right.

Most people measure the success of their vegetable garden by its bounty. When my father-in-law was alive, he weighed his harvest each day using a rusty balance scale. My garden is not the “measuring” kind. It is the soul-satisfying kind. Am I frustrated by the sequential onslaught of tomato hornworms, slugs and snails, bean beetles, thieving raccoons and careless squirrels? Of course. Yet I never walk away in despair. The garden is forgiving even when I neglect it and I have to play catch-up on harvesting, weeding, and nourishing the raised beds.

When my days are full to bursting with “gotta-do” items, and I don’t have a second to spare, I know I need to take 30 minutes to work in my garden. It is not time wasted. It is time well spent, an investment in my day that will allow me to be more productive and focused on the “gotta-do’s.”

[Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

I know a lot of you are fearful of gardening, certain that you don’t have a green thumb. But you don’t need a green thumb, or purple or pink, to experience the ADHD zen of gardening. Just a little bit of dirt (even in a pot on your patio), a few seeds or plants, and a willingness to make mistakes can set you on the path to serenity and mindfulness.