Gardening During a Pandemic


Dear Friends,

I have this gut feeling that at this time of year I write about the same thing in my newsletter article that I wrote about in years past. Although I am a hard worker, I am a bit too lazy to look up these past articles, however, to know if this is true. Can I chalk this all up to the challenges of memory loss and aging?

The truth is that whatever I have written about in past years, I find myself spiritually thinking about a similar topic every year at this season; the relationship between gardening and life. I mean it seems obvious why this happens; I am in our garden a lot. This year, when a seed of guilt sprouted for wanting to talk about the spiritual lessons of tilling the soil, for perhaps another year in a row (please excuse the bad puns!), I found myself thinking about Torah. Perhaps this is why the ancient rabbis called the Torah the Tree of Life.  We read the Torah year after year after year, and yet with each new reading, one can become aware of elements of the text that were missed in the past and one can always gain new insights and wisdom.

So, what can we learn from gardening, especially during a pandemic? I would say a lot. In March and early April, I found myself thinking about “victory gardens” and how during WWII so many Americans planted vegetable gardens at home to supplement their rations and to support the war effort. I thought that this year victory gardens have their place as well, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

While we are all trying to retool the rhythms of our lives and reassess the activities and experiences that we can pursue, the more we do things that nurture the quality of life that we can control, the better off and happier we will be. Gardening is perhaps one of the simplest of hobbies that can achieve this goal. For those people, however, who have now tuned out because you have no interest in gardening or feel you kill anything you have ever tried planting, I do think the spiritual lessons can be applied simply by thinking of them as a metaphor. I hope my simple lessons and insights will be beneficial in the days ahead.

            Lessons from Gardening During a Pandemic

Take Time to Weed:

  • When living with stress, weeding can be a very methodical, rhythmic and satisfying activity and when one’s garden is filled with weeds the healthy plants have no room to grow and flourish. So too with us. We need to take time to engage in methodical, nurturing activities that bring structure to our lives. Our thoughts and emotions can become overgrown with worry and fear and engaging in activities like constantly watching the news simply does not enhance self-care at a time when the world is a scary place. Take time to figure out what activities you can weed out of your daily life so that your spirit and emotions can flourish, even in a difficult time.

Nurture the Soil:

  • Weeding and planting isn’t enough. If you don’t add nutrients to the soil it won’t support a healthy, fruitful garden. A garden soil that has been depleted will not grow anything but useless weeds. So too with us. If we are constantly giving to others, working hard and feeling burnt out, our spirits will start to feel like a burned-out patch of grass. We need to remember to feed our souls with positive, life-affirming activities: read, play, hike, smile, meditate, run, bike, pray, come to a zoom service, celebrate shabbat, listen to music, cook a wonderful meal, grow something beautiful, pet your dog, call someone you love… Even though our world feels smaller because we need to socially distance and even though we are going to spend a lot of time in our own backyards this summer, we can and should continue to find as many ways to feed our souls as possible.

Value a Few Good Things:

  • Let’s face it, saving money is not necessarily one of the reasons to grow your own vegetables. It is definitely cheaper to buy tomatoes at Market Basket in season, and a home gardener may only get a few wonderful meals out of one crop, before they need to go back to the supermarket. Let me share one personal example. We have about 50 feet of peas growing in our garden that were planted at the end of March. In the last few days the peas started to flower, which means the pods will soon be on their way. That being said, since the growing season will only last as long as there is no hot weather, we may get about 5 meals of peas that we spent 3 months growing! WOW! One could be discouraged by the lack of results for the investment, but the taste and joy of eating those few home-grown meals of peas are definitely worth the investment. So too with us. When we work hard to produce or create or nurture something we value, whether it is a cleared out closet, or a home-baked loaf of bread or an hour spent with a person you love, the satisfaction and beauty of that time and effort spent can never be substituted by something material that you would buy. The truth is that one’s quality of life can be far richer when one values the simpler things in life.

It is Always More Rewarding When You Share with the Neighbors:

  • Having a good relationship with your neighbors is ALWAYS a good thing. In terms of gardening, it always more fun to have so many tomatoes and cucumbers that you can head over to your neighbor’s with bowls of extra vegetables. The neighbors are always grateful and it feels good to share. In the times that we are living, it definitely helps one’s spirit to help others and to nurture community; whether it is through zoom gatherings or socially distant visits. Make time to “be” with others in whatever creative and safe ways that you can. We have come to learn that during a pandemic, feelings of frustration, grief and anger, are all appropriate emotions to feel. Some of us are facing significant financial hardship and some of us have lost loved ones. Despite these incredible hardships, it is important to reach out to others for support and to cultivate community. Sharing helps not only the one who receives, but also gives a sense of personal value to the one who gives. During these difficult times, finding a way to help others is also a way to help oneself.

Sending prayers of strength, healing and love to all of you,

Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry