Between the Lines

Kathy Steffen

The sun is shining, temperature is warming, and dirt is calling! That’s right, gardening. What does this have to do with writing? Read on, faithful reader. 

Makes you happy: Want to reduce stress, boost your immune system and improve your mood? Yep, gardening! Need some science behind this claim? Several studies find M. Vaccae (a soil bacteria) eases skin allergies, signals your brain to release serotonin (your feel-good chemical) and, along with the extra vitamin D, boosts your immune system.

Makes you stronger and healthier: Exercise burns calories and is good for your cardiovascular system. Movement is good for your joints. Gardening strengthens your hands. Time in the sun boosts your vitamin D, but don’t forget the sunscreen!

Helps you build self-esteem (translation: feel good about yourself and life): Go out in your garden and turn slowly, taking in all you’ve accomplished. Look at that oasis of beauty and serenity. You did that. You.

This is a column about writing, so you know what comes next: GARDEN JOURNAL!!! Make a spot in your garden for YOU. Add an outdoor chair or bench, a sun umbrella, and create a place to relax and enjoy being outside. Grab your garden journal. Have a dedicated journal, but don’t worry about filling it up. Keep track of what you plant, what works year to year, or what that weird little twisty thing is; you remember it might be a tree or little bush or maybe some sort of flower. Your garden notes will tell you. I use an app (take a photo, all sorts of info follows) to identify everything so when I’m weeding, I don’t accidentally pull up last year’s plantings. 

Gardening encourages mindfulness, and so does journaling about your garden. Working in and caring for your garden can take you to a state of meditation. Follow up the physical work with contemplation as you write your journal entry. I use a ring binder so I can organize, with pocket inserts for seed packets and/or plant tags for what I’ve planted. I have two gardens, my front garden is my “Get Stoned Hippy” garden (yes, complete with rocks, some large, some painted — get it, stoned? Haha.). My side garden (in progress) will be a bicycle garden where I plan on painting an old bike and using it as a planter for the focal point. In addition to a record of my plants and how they do, each “garden” has its own section and my journal is full of ideas for each. The binder makes it quick and easy to add plans, ideas and information. Plus, of course, my “garden contemplations.”

Speaking of planning, go to Google, launch Google maps (a little icon in the upper right corner of squares), put in your address, and click on “satellite” (lower left-hand corner) and voila — your yard from above. You can do a screen shot and enhance, then use that as a basis to plan your landscaping. I’m not thrilled at a satellite watching me, but hey, it’s already there; why not use it?

So get outside, grab a trowel, pen and paper, and improve your well-being. And enjoy!

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There Is a River,” “Jasper Mountain” and “Theater of Illusion.” She joyfully writes, creates art and gardens from her home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and cats.