Dirt Therapy

Once upon a time, I worked at a plant store called “Great Plants Alive.” Tragically — and quite ironically — most of the plants that came home with me came home to die.

Much was the same back in the days when I still had a backyard. I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. My yard was a little city patch of green: covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my old fashioned push lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

My mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not think to bless me with her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

Mary Lou was woman of many moods. Every morning my siblings and I would try to read her like a weather report. How is she today?Dark and stormy? Bright and sunny? Clear and calm? Unpredictably my mom could lash out like lightning, just as unexpectedly as she could erupt in joy. And we definitely preferred the joy.

My mom’s highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a whiskey sour, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud.

My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each spring, I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors. Shasta daises, hibiscus, and geraniums. I have a decided preference for plants of the forgiving kind — the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

Dirt therapy.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We return to the earth like seeds buried but not forgotten.

Now the green blade rises, right? I think it is most befitting to end here with the words of one of my favorite hymns. Might you sing along with me?

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,

wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;

love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Words: John MacLeod Campbell Crum (1872-1958) Music: Noel nouvelet, French carol

Dirt therapy.

Pax vobiscum,


Mental Health Spirituality

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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