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Gardens of Gratitude

Per an insistent recommendation from a wonderful friend, I have finally started reading the book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer – a story about indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Her teachings and writings are powerful and purposeful. I have only read half the book, but the impact on me has already been great.

As many of you know, I am the Conservationist at the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and am lucky enough to travel all over Chautauqua County educating people about watershed-friendly landscapes and the benefits and necessity of incorporating native plants into their yards and gardens. I explain to people about native plant roots and water quality and how our local birds, bees, butterflies, and insects need native plants to survive. As I read the book, though, I realize that I have forgotten something…a path, a connection that is so important in how we see our gardens and our time outside experiencing nature. I talk about beauty and space and enjoying our time outside but have forgotten the one aspect of our lives we need the most…and that is gratitude.

Gratitude…defined as “focusing on what’s good in our lives and being thankful for the things we have. Gratitude is pausing to notice and appreciate the things that we so often take for granted.” The joy of experiencing your backyard has a lot to do with appreciating what you have planted. We often neglect our time of reflection and gratitude for what the earth and our gardens have offered us in return. Whether it is a landscape full of blooming beauties and native knockouts or a garden bursting with plump, ripe tomatoes and bright green peppers, we should stop and take a moment to reflect, observe, and thank our gardens for what they have graciously given us.

We tend to our gardens…give them fertile soil, cool water, and our precious time. We say we love nature, but do we ever stop and think that maybe nature can actually love us back? If we tend and take care of nature, respect and show gratitude for all that she gives us…not only in our own yards, but in everything we do…she will reward us with all we need to live, and we can continue to enjoy all the bountiful flowers and fruits she so beautifully gives to us! As Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer states, “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

Whether it is dirt under my fingernails, clean water in my glass, a delicious ripe peach, or a paddle in my pond, how I experience nature and my time outside feels different. With gratitude and thankfulness, I enjoy a deeper appreciation of not only the gardens I tend and what they provide for me, but also the beauty and importance of all that surrounds me. Gratitude cultivates a feeling of fullness. It reminds us that we truly have everything we need. Gratitude is a gift that we need to cultivate and grow as dutifully as we grow our own gardens.

“The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. … Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision, all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world…In return for the privilege of breath.”

So let’s make gratitude a part of our lives and gardens. Love your yard, and it will love you back in the form of flowers and fruits. Let’s be thankful and humble and plant and tend to our beautiful native gardens for our local insects, birds, and wildlife - and also for us and all the wonders, experiences, and life they bring to our lives as well!

by Carol Markham, Conservationist for Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy

(photo of a native plant garden by Carol Markham)

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